How did the days of the week get their names?

| Linda Brown | Word & Idioms

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In English, most days’ names derive from Viking and Germanic mythology, which are closely related. One day, however, managed to retain its Roman roots after the Viking invasion to England: 

  • Sunday – in honor of Sunna, the Germanic sun god.
  • Monday – in honor of Mani, the Germanic moon god.
  • Tuesday – meaning ‘day of Tiwaz’ the one-handed Germanic god of the sky who is associated with single combat.  
  • Wednesday – meaning the day of the Germanic god ‘Woden’, also known as the Viking god ‘Odin’. Odin is associated with wisdom, healing, death, royalty, the gallows, knowledge, war, battle, victory, sorcery, poetry, frenzy, and the runic alphabet, and is the husband of the goddess Fríge.
  • Thursday – meaning Thor’s day, who is a Viking god personified in thunder. 
  • Friday – meaning the day of the Viking goddess Fríge. She is described as a goddess associated with foresight and wisdom 
  • Saturday – the only day of the week to retain its Roman origin. It is named after the Roman god Saturn associated with the Titan Cronus, father of Zeus, and many Olympians. 

Bonus fact: contrary to what you might think, the week did NOT always consist of seven (7) days. Different cultures used other week-like cycles. Romans, for example, practiced an eight (8) days market-week called Nandina. In post-revolution France, there was an attempt to establish a ten-day week (10), and the Communist Soviet Union had a short attempt to establish a five-day (5) week.

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And for those of you are true week-origin enthusiasts, here are some more:

There are several hypotheses about the origin of the weekly cycle.

The famous German Assyriologist, Friedrich Delitzsch asserted that this week comes from an early cycle which is a subdivision of the monthly lunar-based cycle. He suggested that at one point the week was cut off from its monthly source and became an independent unit. Supporting this hypothesis, ancient Babylonians did mark a seventh-day cycle each month (7, 14, 21, 28) as unlucky days. 

In contrast, prominent biblical scholars such as Niels-Erik Andreasen, Jeffrey H. Tigay, and others found little similarity between the week-cycle and the Babylonian method. For example, they point that there is Balylonina no record of names for days. 

While acknowledging that middle-eastern cultures influenced the Israelite nation, these scholars assert that the Israelites were the first to introduce a lunar-independent seven days a week cycle. Tigay shows in his studies that the Sabbath is mentioned in very ancient layers of the Bible.

And for those of you are true week-origin enthusiasts, here are some more:

There are several hypotheses about the origin of the weekly cycle.

The famous German Assyriologist, Friedrich Delitzsch asserted that this week comes from an early cycle which is a subdivision of the monthly lunar-based cycle. He suggested that at one point the week was cut off from its monthly source and became an independent unit. Supporting this hypothesis, ancient Babylonians did mark a seventh-day cycle each month (7, 14, 21, 28) as unlucky days. 

In contrast, prominent biblical scholars such as Niels-Erik Andreasen, Jeffrey H. Tigay, and others found little similarity between the week-cycle and the Babylonian method. For example, they point that there is Balylonina no record of names for days. 

While acknowledging that middle-eastern cultures influenced the Israelite nation, these scholars assert that the Israelites were the first to introduce a lunar-independent seven days a week cycle. Tigay shows in his studies that the Sabbath is mentioned in very ancient layers of the Bible.