What’s in a name did you say?

Have you even wondered how the planets of our solar system have been named? Or the days of the week? Or, for that matter, the months of the year?

The planets were named after the Roman Gods. In Roman mythology, Mercury was the messenger god and hence the swiftest. The planet is fastest while going around the sun, taking just 88 earth days. Pluto, in contrast, takes 248 years for its revolution! Venus was the goddess of love and beauty. The planet is surrounded by white clouds giving it a mystique and a dreamy look. This ‘morning and evening star’ is also the brightest object in the night sky. Mars is the god of war. When we think of war, we think of bloodshed. Mars is ‘the Red Planet,’ red denoting the colour of blood.

Jupiter is the chief Roman God. It is also the largest planet of the solar system. Saturn, the god of agriculture is Jupiter’s father. It is the second largest planet. Uranus, the seventh planet is blue in colour and according to legend, lord of the sky. Neptune is the god of the oceans and is greenish-blue in colour like the sea.

Pluto is god of the underworld (hell), a place below the earth which is dark and dull. Pluto is so far away from the sun that it appears only like a bright star. Thus, it is always night in Pluto.

The days of the week are named after the Scandavian Gods.

Sunday is named after the sun and Monday after the moon. Tuesday after Tyr, the god of war. (In German mythology, it is Tiw, the dark god). Woden, the greatest Scandavian god had the fourth day of the week named after him and Thursday gets its name from Thor, the god of thunder.  Friday was Freya’s day. Legend has it that Freya’s husband was Woden, and their son was Thor. Both had days named after them and as they didn’t want her to be jealous, the next day, Friday, was her day. Finally, Saturday was ‘Saturn’s day.’

For the months of the year, we again have to look to Roman mythology and the Latin language.

January is named after Janus, the protector of the gateway of heaven. February, after februalia, a time when sacrifices are made for atoning sins. March after Mars, the god of war. The next two months being part of spring are named that way. April comes from ‘ap erire,’ Latin, meaning to open buds. May after Maia, goddess of growth of plants.

June comes from juvenis, Latin for youth. Some sources also say that April is named after Aprilis and that February and June are named after the gods Felruas and Juno respectively. July uis named after Julius Caeser while August after his grand-nephew Augustus Caeser.

September, October, November and December come from the Latin words Septem, Octo, Novem and Decem which mean 7,8,9 and 10. But September is the ninth month and December is the twelfth month in our calendar today. The reason why the above names are given is that at that time, the first month was March resulting in September being the seventh month. The same goes for the other three months.

So English is a hybrid of languages from all over the world, Latin and Greek having the greatest influence. More than 60 per cent of English words come directly from Latin and Greco-Latin or through French.

(This article appeared in the Young World section of The Hindu newspaper on October 10, 1992)