Names of the Months
Today we’re talking about the English names of months.
Page 2 of 3
January and February
To recap, Martius became March, Aprilis turned into April, Maius is now May, and Iunius became June. September through December are pretty clear. Together, those make eight of the twelve month names, so there are four left to discuss. Up next are January and February; we’ll talk more about Quintilis and Sextilis, now July and August, in a minute.
According to timeanddate.com, the 304-day Roman calendar was flawed because “it didn’t align with the seasons,” and about 61 days were missing during the winter. (1) To solve this, around 700 BC, King Numa Pompilius added 50 or 51 days to the calendar, adding two months to the beginning of the year. These were called Januarius and Februarius, our January and February. Januarius comes from Janus, the Roman god who protected gates and doorways, and the word Februarius originates with Februalia, a Roman “festival of purification and atonement.” (3) If you have ever wondered why there is a silent R in the middle of the word February, you have the Latin februa, meaning “to cleanse,” to thank for this spelling difficulty. (3)
The Julian Calendar, and July and August
Despite the addition of two months, the calendar still had problems. (1) After the Romans made various failed attempts to align the calendar with the seasons, it was decided to add what was called the “intercalary month.” The high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome (otherwise known as the pontifex maximus) got to control when to insert this extra month, and this became a problem because “a pontifex maximus could control the length of the year depending on (his) political agenda.” (1)
Julius Caesar, who lived from 100 BC to 44 BC, began developing what was known as the Julian Calendar in 46 BC, and he abolished the intercalary month. (3) The Julian Calendar was completed during the reign of Caesar’s successor and grandnephew, Augustus, (1) who lived from 63 BC to 13 AD. The names Quintilis and Sextilis were changed to July and August, respectively, in honor of these two leaders: Julius Caesar and his grandnephew Augustus. (3)