Days of the week

I read a great book a few years ago that explained the names of the days of the week. The book was The Clock We Live On by Isaac Asimov. Then today I read a post at Daily Writing Tips that covered the material again. I just think it is fascinating to see where the names of the days of the week come from, especially as you see it in different languages. Since I know Spanish and English, I will explain them here. If you know another language and how the days are named, then please leave a comment so we can see how they compare. I know there are similarities in different languages.

As a quick primer the names in English and Spanish are:

  • Sunday — Domingo
  • Monday — Lunes
  • Tuesday — Martes
  • Wednesday — Miércoles
  • Thursday — Jueves
  • Friday — Viernes
  • Saturday — Sábado

The book explained (if I remember right) that originally the days of the week had names reflecting celestial objects. That has changed over time and languages. Each object was dominant in the first hour of the day. The cycle is Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon. Each hour is controlled or dominated by that object. Starting at Saturn and counting through the cycle until you reach the 25th hour, and the start of the next day, you land on the Sun. Then through the cycle again, the 25th hour starts the next day dominated by the Moon. Through the week you get Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus then Saturn again.

Sunday started with the sun. In Spanish it is Domingo which comes from the Latin Dies Dominica (Lord’s day).

Monday is the moon. Moon in Spanish is luna. Lunes is the Spanish word for Monday.

Tuesday is a bit convoluted, but it comes from Mars, the god of war. The reason it gets lost in the translation is we take Tuesday from the Germanic god of war, Tiu or Tiwa. In Spanish the day is Martes which comes from the planet Mars which is Marte. The relationship to Tiu, or Tiwa, is that Mars is the god of war.

Wednesday comes from the Germanic god, Woden. It is a bit of a stretch to make Woden and Mercury connect to one another. Suffice it to say that the English Wednesday is named after Woden and the Spanish Miércoles is named after Mercury.

Thursday is named after the god of thunder, Thor. In Spanish it is Jueves and is named after Jupiter who was a Roman god whose power came from his thunderbolt, and thus the connection between Thor and Jupiter.

Friday gets its name from Freya, the Teutonic goddess of love. Viernes in Spanish comes from Venus,  which is the Roman goddesss of love.

Saturday gets its name from the planet Saturn in English whereas the Spanish Sábado comes from the word sabbath.

The book, The Clock We Live On is very interesting. It not only talked about the days of the week, but why the day is broken into 24 hours and how different words came to be used the way they are. I specifically remember that ‘minute’ gets its name because it is a small part of an hour (Latin minuta = small part of something). And ‘second’ gets its name because it was the second division of the hour. I am serious, that is really where the name comes from. Pretty lame, huh?

Unfortunately the book is not available new. You can dig around at Amazon and find it used.