In Grade school, we’re taught a lot of basic knowledge; counting, shapes, measurements, manners and calendars. As we grow however, our teachers never teach us where this stuff comes from. Or at least, they don’t like telling the truth about the history of our most used basic information. The origins of the names of the days of the week is something useful to know, but if we knew, we would see society differently. In this article I will explain the origins of these names, the languages they came from, what they mean and why these meanings were assigned to them. Lastly, I will explain how this knowledge can be applied to everyday (Christian) life.
Firstly, the days of the week as we know them are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh day. Though this is true, each name is different and they have ancient meanings. The oldest historical records of the days of the week are found in Sumerian, Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek, Roman and early christian languages. Sumer and Babylon did not evolve separately. They shared information with each other and settled in the same area of the world, Mesopotamia. Therefore the development of the week day names were similar.
Sumerian Week Days:
Sumer is the first known civilization that existed over 6,000 years ago. They were the first to plant, harvest and store food. Their most famous accomplishments was their knowledge of astronomy, astrology and time. With Sumer being the grandfather of the world’s society’s, it is suitable to say that their knowledge is still in use today. Their studies brought forth the naming of the days of our modern week through their understanding of the celestial bodies.
They spent their days analyzing the sky, the stars and divided their movements into time. They assigned each day to a planet: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune. Furthermore The Sumerians used their celestial analysis more for creating music than naming the days of the week.
Babylon derived from Sumer. In fact they are almost the same since they are mentioned interchangeably as “neo-babylonian (Sumer)” or “Babylon”. They were the first to assign a particular moon phase to the end of a seven day week for the four weeks of a month. This occurred during the 6th-8th century BCE. The Babylonians associated the seven days of the week with their seven favorite gods alongside the planets (Falk 124).
- Sunday: Sun_ Shamash (sun god)
- Monday: Moon_ Sin (moon god)
- Tuesday: Mars_ Nargal (god of war)
- Wedensday: Mercury_ Nabu (god of scribes)
- Thurday: Jupitar_ Marduk (ruler god)
- Friday: Venus_ Ishtar (love goddess)
- Saturday: Saturn_ Ninurta (farming god)
The Hebrews, also known as the Israelites/Jews settled in early Sumer and Babylon. They founded a thriving community in Babylon 604-561 BCE. However they did not conform to the popular astronomical god associated week days. They used numerical order to describe their days with Shabbat as the seventh day. Shabbat in Hebrew means to rest, cease and desist (Falk 123). This order is based on the creation account in Genesis 2 KJV
The word Shabbat is found in different forms in every language around the world. All of which derive from the original Hebrew word. Shabbat is also similar to the Babylonian word Shabattu which meant feast of the moon. Some say the Babylonians’ seven day week was influenced by the Israelites who lived in their kingdom.
Greek and Roman Week Days:
Moving along into Greek and Roman society. They derived their seven day week from Sumer, Babylon, Israel societies. Although this may be true, the Greek and Romans attached their “new” gods to the days of the week instead of using the Babalonian gods.
- Sunday: Heliu (Sun god)
- Monday: Selenes (moon god)
- Tuesday: Areos (war god)
- Wedensday: Hermu (messenger god)
- Thursday: Dios (sky god)
- Friday: Aphrodites (beauty and love goddess)
- Saturday: Kronu (god of time, king of titans)
Roman: From their Latin language.
- Sunday: Dies Solis (Sun god)
- Monday: Dies Lunae (moon god)
- Tuesday: Dies Martis (war god)
- Wedensday: Dies Mercurii (Messenger god)
- Thurday: Dies Iovis (sky and thunder god)
- Friday: Dies Veneris (love goddess)
- Saturday: Dies Saturnis (Saturn’s day)
Greek and Roman gods are basically a spin-off of Babylonian gods. It’s the same god, just a different name in a different language. However, the Jews/Israelites living amongst them were mistaken as Saturn worshipers because the Sabbath day was part Friday and Saturday. It was typical for the Greeks to refere to Saturday as Saturn’s day not the Sabbath (Falk 125). The term Christianity was coined in the first century AD and it took over as the new most righteous religion, shattering the Israelite name and reputation. This attack on religion was a domino effect which threatened the Roman empire at the time. After many horrifying Christian persecutions, the Roman emperor Constantine decided to blend the religious cultures together at the Council of Nicea, 321 AD (Heyning 1).
Consequently, the Romans conquered much of the European continent, therefore their governing religion was already mixed together with their neighboring nations, such as the Germanic and Slavic nations. The Germanic and Slavic nations had a seven day week but their designated rest day was what we know as Niedziela or Sunday (no work/ restoration). Not to mention that the Romans worshiped their sun god Mythris on the first day of the week. However, in the Germans and Slavs calendar, Monday is the first day of the week, and they worshiped their sun god Sol on Sunday (Falk 127-128). Therefore, Constantine, conveniently choosing to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday, made the new religion pleasing to them. This new weekly structure made it possible for the Slavic and Germanic nations to “convert” to Christianity (Stud 600).
German and Norse Week:
- Monday: Montag (Manadagr)- Moon day, Sol’s brother Mani.
- Tuesday: Dienstag (Tysdagr)- Tiwaz/Zeus god of the sky, light, shine.
- Wednesday: Mittwoch (Ooendagr)- Midweek, Odin god, ruler, wisdom and magic.
- Thursday: Donnerstag (Thorsdagr)- Thor’s day, thunder/ sky, god.
- Friday: Freitag (Friadagr)- Odins wife, freya goddess of love, beauty and fertility.
- Saturday: Samstag (Laugardagr)- Saturn, sixth day.
- Sunday: Sonntag (Summuntar)- Sun god Sol invictus, sun’s day. Rest Day.
(Jassem 280-287, Falk 129)
The new change in week days remained popular, and from that point on, many pagan traditions infiltrated the Christian religion. Many of the European Christian converts went on to conquer the world spreading their beloved pagan Christianity in the name of “Jesus”. Their conquest, started with the Spaniards, who led with terror and developed this longstanding civilization of the Americas.
The English words for the days of the week come directly from paganism, going back as far as the ancient Sumerian civilization. We use these names so confidently that we neglect to ever research how they came to be. These names still honor their assigned deities even though we don’t know it. Christianity has become the new embodiment of global paganism for the reason why they continue to worship on Sunday, for the sun god Sol Invictus and Mythris instead of the original Biblical Sabbath. As Christians, we can always assign the days of the week with numbers, tasks or feelings instead. We do not need to use their pagan given names.
I hope that this history makes sense to you. It is much more vast than I put it but I recommend that you check out the references below.
Astrology, sorcery and the calendar months also spin off of the studies of the celestial bodies which requires a new article. Eastern and African paganism is different from European paganism. A topic that I will write about as well.
Jassem, Zaidan Ali. The Arabic Cognates or Origins of The Names of “Week Days” in English and European Languages: A Lexical Root Theory Approach. ACADEMIA Vol. 2. April 2018. International Journal of English and Education. 273-294. Click here.
Falk, M. Astronomical Names For The Days of The Week. Journal of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 93: 122-133.June 1999. Click here.
Heyning, Eduard. Septimana. 2014. p1-2. Click here.
Stud, N. V. Origins of The Days and Months Names In The English Language. Kjiv National University of Technologies and Design. UDC: 811.111: 81-13. Click here.