We mark time in many different ways. One unit – the month – has been in use for thousands of years.
We use their names all the time, but what do the months' names mean and where do they come from? Take a closer look...
What's in a name? Months of the year
Ever wondered why we call the months what we do? Wonder no longer! Here's our handy guide to the names of the months of the year. Like many aspects of culture, it's a bit of a mixed bag, but we can thank the Romans for most of it…
January is named after the Roman god Janus. As you can see in this print, he had two faces so he could see the future and the past. He was also the god of doors.
February is named after an ancient Roman festival of purification called Februa.
March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. This statue shows him in battle gear. The Roman calendar originally began in March, and the months of January and February were added later, after a calendar reform.
April takes its name from the Latin word aperire, meaning 'to open' (just like flowers do in spring). Here's a beautifully detailed watercolour drawing of a vase of flowers by French artist Antoine Jules Pelletier. The Romans called the month Aprilis.
May is named after the Greek goddess Maia. This print is an allegorical representation of the month of May. The artist has included the twins Castor and Pollux because the zodiac sign of Gemini starts in May.
June is named after the Roman goddess Juno – the god of marriage and childbirth, and the wife of Jupiter, king of the gods. Here she is seated in a chariot.
July and August
July and August were named after two major figures of the ancient Roman world – the statesman Julius Caesar (on the left, damaged) and Rome's first emperor, Augustus.
But what about the rest? September, October, November and December are named after Roman numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 – they were originally the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the Roman year. Before July and August were renamed after Roman rulers, they were called Quintilis and Sextilis, meaning fifth and sixth months. How boring!
So now you know why we call the months what we do. Here's one last fact – the word 'month' itself is related to the moon. It originally measured how long it took for the moon to complete a cycle around the earth, so 'moon' and 'month' come from the same root.