The Grammarphobia Blog

Days of our lives

Q: I found your post about the months very interesting. So we got the names from the Romans. And, as far as I can tell, we got the days of the week from Teutonic gods. English seems to gather from everyone.

A: Yes, English is indeed a great gatherer, but the names for the days of the week ultimately come from Roman gods.

Most of the classical deities were replaced by corresponding Teutonic ones when the Latin days of the week were adopted by Germanic speakers.

As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “The Latin days of the week in imperial Rome were named after the planets, which in turn were named after gods.”

Each day took its name from the planets supposedly controlling its first hour under the Ptolemaic system. Ptolemy considered the Sun and the Moon to be planets.

“The planetary names, classical Latin diēs sōlis, diēs lunae, diēs martis, etc., came into common use in the Roman Empire, and were adopted in translated form by the Germanic peoples, including the Angles and Saxons (before they came to Britain),” the OED says.

The dictionary adds that “the names Mars, Mercurius, etc., being understood as names of Roman gods, were translated using the names of the Germanic gods supposed to correspond to these.”

Here’s a brief history of the English days of the week:

Sunnandæg (Old English for Sunday) comes from the Latin diēs sōlis (day of the sun).

Monandæg (OE for Monday or moon’s day), from diēs lunae (day of the moon).

Tywesdæg (day of Tiw, war and sky god in the Germanic pantheon), from diēs martis (day of Mars).

Wodnesdæg (day of Woden, highest god in the Germanic pantheon), from diēs mercuriī (day of Mercury).

Þunresdæg (day of Thor, god of thunder), from diēs Iovis (day of Jupiter).

Frigedæig (day of Frig, goddess of wisdom and wife of Woden), from diēs Veneris (day of Venus).

Sæternesdæg (day of Saturn), from diēs sāturnī.

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