The Etymology of the Weekdays

"Venus and Mars" Created by Palma il Giovane c. 1605-1609 | Courtesy Getty Gateway Images

While it may not seem all that important at first glance to learn about how the days of the week got their names, it is actually very important from a cultural perspective. As many of the weekdays are named after the gods of various religions, we can learn much about the religious practices of certain cultures by analyzing why and how certain gods and goddesses were associated with certain days. Religion and culture are closely intertwined to the point where the English words culture and cult are derived from the same word. Studying a culture’s religion can provide insight into how inhabitants of that culture thought and how they viewed the world.

The word Sunday is, appropriately enough, named after the sun. 1 Specifically, it is derived from the Old English word sunnandæg. Sunnandæg itself is the combination of two words, sunnen,  which means “sun,” and dæg, which means “day.”2

The word Monday is derived from the Old English word monandæg, which combines two other Old English words: mona, which means “moon,” and dæg, which, as mentioned above, means “day.” In this respect, Monday is much like the word Sunday in that Monday references the moon whereas Sunday references the sun.3

The word Tuesday is derived from the word Tysdagr, which references the god Tyr.  Tyr, also rendered as Tiw or Tiu, is the Norse god of war and justice. The words for Tuesday in other languages also reference other gods of war from various mythologies. For example, in Latin, the word for Tuesday is dies Martis, which means “day of Mars.” Mars is Tyr’s counterpart in the Roman pantheon, being the god of war for the Romans, as well as “protector of Rome.” 4

Wednesday is derived from the Old English word wodnesdæg, referencing the god Woden.5 Woden is also known as Wodan and Wotan, but he is most commonly known by the name of Odin. Due to the multiple different “archaeological and literary sources” surrounding Odin, it is hard to tell what “his exact nature and role” was in the Norse pantheon, though much like Tyr, he is a god of war and poets, as well as the “protector of heroes.” He is commonly depicted as a one-eyed elderly man with “a flowing beard.” In Latin, the name for Wednesday is dies Mercurii, referencing the Roman god Mercury, who Odin was identified as by the Roman historian Tacitus.6 Mercury, also known as Mercurius, is the Roman “god of shopkeepers and merchants, travelers and transporters of goods, and thieves and tricksters.” He is often considered the Roman counterpart to the Greek god Hermes and both have a role as messenger within their respective pantheons.7

Thursday is derived from “Thor’s-day,” referencing the name of Thor, Norse god of thunder.8 Thor is commonly depicted in Norse mythology as an extremely strong, red-haired, “great warrior,” and the son of Odin in some traditions. He possessed a magical hammer named Mjollnir and is fated to die while killing “the world serpent Jormangund” during the Ragnarok, the destruction of the “world of gods and men” in Norse mythology. The Latin term for Thursday is dies Jovis, which means “Jove’s day” and references Jupiter/Jove, the head Roman god that “Thor was sometimes equated with.”9

"Jupiter" originates from France c. 1670 or 1680-1700 |Courtesy Getty Gateway Images
“Jupiter” sculpture from France
c. 1670 or 1680-1700 | Courtesy Getty Gateway Images

The word Friday is derived from “Frigg’s-day,” which references the name of the Norse goddess Frigg, also known as Freya, Frea, or Friia. Frigg is Odin’s wife and patron of love, specifically “marriage and fertility.”10

The word Saturday is derived from the Middle English word saterday and the Old English word sæterndæg, the latter referencing Saturn of Roman mythology. Saturn, also called Saturnus in Latin, was the Roman god of “sowing and seed.” He is also identified as Cronus, one of the Greek Titans and father of Zeus. Zeus drove Saturn/Cronus out of Mount Olympus, but Saturn is also said to have given “his people agriculture and other peaceful arts” and “ruled Latium” during a peaceful and prosperous “golden age.”11

Even today, religion has an effect on our culture. Whether it is through our overall sense of morals or through the expressions and idioms we use, religion and religious practice often affect how we think, even if we are not consciously aware of it. How much more would religion have affected older cultures, many of whom were more openly pious than ours? As American culture puts an emphasis on multiculturalism, it is colored by other cultures and often takes aspects of them into itself. Therefore, through understanding other cultures, we can learn more about our own.

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v., “Week.”
  2. “Sunday | Definition of Sunday by Merriam-Webster,” Merriam-Webster, accessed November 18, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Sunday.
  3. “Monday | Definition of Monday by Merriam-Webster,” accessed November 18, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Monday.
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v., “Tyr.”
  5. “Wednesday | Definition of Wednesday by Merriam-Webster,” Merriam-Webster, accessed November 18, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Wednesday.
  6.  Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v.,“Odin.”
  7. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v.,“Mercury.”
  8. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v.,“Week.”
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v., “Thor.”
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v., “Frigg.”
  11. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v., “Saturn.”
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40 Comments

  • Interesting article, other than hearing somewhere that the Thursday comes Thor’s name. I didn’t know much about how we got the other names of the week. It does make sense that we derived the names of our days from religious aspects and that it influenced the naming process. For many we seem to forget that the gods of our ancestors played a big role in everyday life and the naming of our days was a way of honoring the gods.

  • I found this article really interesting! I had actually never thought about how the names of the week or their origins. I love reading about things that today seem normal and how in fact they had a lot of thought into them. I also really liked to learn how religion still continues to be a big part of our lives even in something as simple as the name of the days. Great job Trey!

  • wow! I was not aware of how the names of the days of the week were actually given. I didn’t think there was a deeper meaning behind the days of the week, but now that I know it made me realize that a lot of the common things we know and use everyday have a much deeper meaning than we notice. I can’t believe after all these years the deeper meaning behind Monday and Sunday has gone unnoticed but now it seems more than obvious to me.This article was very mind opening and informative, was definitely a great read!

  • I was extremely surprised to find that the names for the days of the week had a much deeper meaning. I had absolutely no idea that they were named after gods of not only one religion, but multiple religions. I always thought that someone just randomly decided to make up a random word for each day of the week. This article really does go to show that there is almost always a deeper meaning behind things and that one just has to dig deep enough to find out why.

  • This is an interesting article! I never knew that the days in the week have so much more meaning then the names themselves. Especially Thursday beng ‘Thor’s-day’, was pretty interesting knowing that story myself from the superhero character Thor. I like how there is a little bit of culture and religion aspects in almost everything, it’s just the matter digging in to find a deeper meaning.

  • I never knew that the days of the week had so much meaning behind them. Of course I figured there was an explanation as to why each day has the name it does, but I didn’t expect them to be after gods and such. It was fun to learn about the different days and the origins of their names in such a descriptive article, good job!

  • I was once told by a friend who was teaching me Spanish why the Spanish days of the week and their correlation to the Greek gods. I was very intrigued by the newly found knowledge. After reading your article I was transported to my first encounter with the days of the week. Your explanation for each of the days made your article very educational and intriguing to me

  • Very informative article. After learning the days of the week in Spanish class, I wondered how they were related to the days of the week in English. This article has finally answered that question for me. I find it very interesting that the days of the week may be named after different gods that had the same role in that region, like using Mercury for Odin. It makes me want to know if that was done on purpose or if it just worked out that way? Did they have a meeting or just copy each other? I also never realized how they moon (Monday) follows the sun (Sunday) even though it seems so obvious to me now.

  • Wow very informative! I’ve never really thought of were the days of the weeks get there name. It was very true that it is very cultural. I would of never thought that Thursday’s was dervived from Thors day! I find it truly amazing how American culture has incorporated these days. It is also amazing how a lot of the days are named after different Gods or objects like the sun. Overall very good article!!

  • Very interesting article! It seemed like most of the days of the week were derived off of greek Gods, I thought that was very interesting, Thursday being thors day was pretty neat, it really is something that you don’t think about on a daily basis or at all! But the information was very interesting and nice to know for the future! Every morning when I wake up and think about the day Ill think about it a little differently.

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