Compiled by Shlomo Lerman
The names of the days of the week in various world languages can be classified as either numerical or planetary. The names of one or more days may have been changed for religious reasons. For instance Sunday is often named "Lord's Day" while Saturday is often named Day of Rest "Sabbath" or "washing day" in the nordic countries. Numerically named days may associate day one with Sunday as in Hebrew, Arabic and Portuguese, or may associate day one with Monday as in Chinese and Slavic languages.
Planetary names for the days are derived from the Sun, Moon, and five visible planets (Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn), each of which was associated with a Greco-Roman deity. The Germanic languages, including English, substitute indigenous Germanic gods with similar characteristics for many of the Roman deities.
The English names for the days of the week derive from the Anglo-Saxon deities stemming from the native paganism of the Anglo-Saxons. An exception to this is Saturday, which takes its name from the Roman deity Saturn. To varying extents, most regions with dominant Germanic languages practise a similar naming convention, with most of their weekdays named for their native Germanic deities.
The English days of the week are part of an astrological tradition of naming the days after the Sun, the Moon, and the five visible planets. The latter is clearest in Saturday, named for Saturn. What is different in the English system is that the names of Germanic gods were chosen, and these were not considered to preside over the relevant planets, but instead were considered equivalent to the Roman gods that were thought to rule over the planets. For example, Friday is named after the Germanic goddess of love, Freya, who was seen as equivalent to the Roman goddess of love Venus, who was associated with the planet Venus that the Roman day was named for.
The name comes from the Old English Sunnandæg meaning "Day of the Sun". This is a translation of the Latin phrase Dies Solis. English, like most of the Germanic languages, preserves the original pagan/sun associations of the day. Many other European languages, including all of the Romance languages, have changed its name to the equivalent of "the Lord's day" (based on Ecclesiastical Latin Dies Dominica). Spanish and Portuguese Domingo, French Dimanche, Romanian Duminică and Italian Domenica, etc.
The name comes from the Old English Mōnandæg meaning "Day of the Moon". This is likely based on a translation of the Latin name Dies Lunae. French Lundi, Spanish, Lunes, Romanian Luni, Italian Lunedì, etc.
The name comes from the Old English Tiwesdæg meaning "Tyr's day." Tyr (in Old English, Tiw, Tew or Tiu) was a god of combat and heroic glory in Norse mythology and Germanic paganism. The name of the day is based on Latin Dies Martis, "Day of Mars" (the Roman war god); French Mardi, Spanish Martes, Romanian Marţi, Italian Martedì, etc .
The name from the Old English Wōdnesdæg meaning the day of the Germanic god Wodan, more commonly known as Odin, who was the highest god in Norse mythology, and a prominent god of the Anglo-Saxons (and other peoples) in England until about the seventh century. It is based on Latin Dies Mercurii, "Day of Mercury"; French Mercredi, Spanish Miércoles, Romanian Miercuri, Italian Mercoledì,etc . The connection between Mercury and Odin is more strained than the other connections. The usual explanation is that both Odin and Mercury were considered leaders of souls, in their respective mythologies. Also, in Old Norse myth, Odin, like Mercury, is associated with poetic and musical inspiration. In German, the day is referred to as Mittwoch (mid week). Similarly in Finnish it is referred to as keskiviikko (keski = mid, viikko = week).
The name comes from the Old English Þūnresdæg meaning the day of Þunor, commonly known in Modern English as Thor, the god of thunder in Norse Mythology and Germanic Paganism. It is based on the Latin Dies Iovis, "Day of Jupiter"; French Jeudi, Spanish Jueves, Romanian Joi, Italian Giovedì, etc . In the Roman pantheon, Jupiter was the chief god, who seized and maintained his power on the basis of his thunderbolt .
The name comes from the Old English Frigedæg meaning the day of Frige, the Germanic goddess of beauty, who is a later incarnation of the Norse goddess Frigg, but also potentially connected to the Goddess Freyja. It is based on the Latin Dies Veneris, "Day of Venus"; French Vendredi, Spanish Viernes, Romanian Vineri, Italian Venerdì, etc. Venus was the Roman goddess of love and sex.
It is the only day of the week to retain its Roman origin in English, named after the Roman god Saturn. Its original Anglo-Saxon rendering was Sæturnesdæg. In Latin it was Dies Saturni, "Day of Saturn". But, French Samedi, Spanish and Portuguese Sábado, Romanian Sâmbătă, Italian Sabato, etc. come from Sabbata Dies (Day of the Sabbath) coming from Hebrew Shabath, "Day of Rest".
In English language countries the week may begin on either Sunday or Monday. Most business and social calendars in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia mark Monday as the first day of the week, though in South Africa and South America, Monday is considered the first day of the working week. Sunday was the first day of the astrological week, the Hebrew week, and in the Ecclesiastical Latin week of the first millennium.
In Jewish and Christian tradition, the first day of the seven day week is Sunday. According to the Bible, God created the Earth in six days, and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday. This made Sunday the first day of the week, while Saturdays were sanctified for celebration and rest. After the week was adopted in Early Christian Europe, Sunday remained the first day of the week, but also gradually displaced Saturday as the day of celebration and rest, being considered the Lord's Day.
The variation is evident from names of the days in some languages — in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Portuguese some days are simply called by their number starting from Sunday, e.g. Monday is called "Second day" etc. In other languages, like Slavic languages, days are also called after their ordinal numbers, but starting from Monday, making Tuesday the "Second day". According to another possible explanation, days from Monday to Friday in Slavic languages aren't numbered by their position within the week, but by their distance from Sunday, especially given that Wednesday is named sereda "The Middle day", which makes it a true statement only if Sunday is the first day of the week.
Through common usage in most of Europe for business purposes today, in South America, and in parts of Asia, Monday is considered to be the first day of the week and is literally named as such in languages such as Mandarin (星期一 [xīngqí yī]) and Lithuanian (pirmadienis). The ISO prescribes Monday as the first day of the week with ISO-8601 for software date formats.
In the Julian and Gregorian calendars, a day extends from midnight to midnight. However, in the Hebrew and Islamic calendars the days extend from sunset to sunset. Thus, the Jewish shabath also starts at sunset on Friday and extends into Saturday and the first day of the Islamic calendar, yaum al-ahad, starts on Saturday after sunset and extends to sunset on Sunday.
It is suggested that the seven day week derives from early human observation that there are seven celestial objects (the five visible planets plus the Sun and the Moon) which move in the night sky relative to the fixed stars. Seven days is also the approximate time between the principal phases of the Moon (new, first quarter, full, last quarter). Various sources point to the seven day week having originated in ancient Babylonia or Sumer. It has been suggested that a seven day week might be much older. The seven day planetary week was known to be present in Hellenistic Egypt.
The oldest Greek attestation of a seven day week associated with heavenly luminaries are from Vettius Valens, an astrologer writing ca 170 CE in his Anthologiarum. The order was Sun, Moon, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Chronos . Valens had studied Egyptian astrology in Alexandria and there had probably also been exposed to Babylonian astrology. From Greece the planetary week names passed to the Romans.
Sanskrit attestations of the navagraha "nine astrological forces", seven of which are used for day names, date to the Yavanajataka "Sayings of the Greeks", a 150 CE translation of a 120 CE Greek Alexandrian text. The Manicheans carried the system to Tibet and China in the 3rd and 4th century.
The earliest known reference in Chinese writings is attributed to Fan Ning, who lived in the late 4th century, while diffusions via India are documented with the writings of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yi Jing and the Ceylonese or Central Asian Buddhist monk Bu Kong of the 8th century. The Chinese transliteration of the planetary system was soon brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kobo Daishi; surviving diaries of the Japanese statesman Fujiwara Michinaga show the seven day system in use in Heian Period Japan as early as 1007. In Japan, the seven day system was kept in use (for astrological purposes) until its promotion to a full-fledged (Western-style) calendrical basis during the Meiji era.
The seven day week is known to have been unbroken for almost two millennia via the Alexandrian, Julian, and Gregorian calendars. The date of Easter Sunday can be traced back through numerous computistic tables to an Ethiopic copy of an early Alexandrian table beginning with the Easter of 311 as described by Otto Neugebauer in Ethiopic astronomy and computus.
In most Romance languages, such as Italian, Spanish, French and Romanian, the names of the days except Saturday and Sunday come from Roman gods via Latin. Latin itself calqued the names from Greek. The Roman (Latin) names of the days are still used in some English courts such as the House of Lords.
The major exception is Portuguese which uses a numbered system derived from the Ecclesiastical Latin day names, as opposed to Classic Latin.
The early Christian Church, uncomfortable using names based on pagan gods, introduced a simple numerical nomenclature which persists in some European languages such as Portuguese and Greek. The Christian names are derived from Hebrew, which numbers all days of the week beginning with "First day" for Sunday but ending with the "Shabath" for Saturday. Arabic names for Sunday through Thursday are first through fifth days; Friday (the day when Muslims are expected to perform noon prayers as a group) is named the Djum'a "gathering day" and Saturday is Sabt.
It was Saint Martin of Dumio (c. 520–580), archbishop of Braga, who decided that it was unworthy of good Christians to call the days of the week by the Latin names of pagan gods and decided to use the ecclesiastic terminology to designate them (Feria secunda, Feria tertia, Feria quarta, Feria quinta, Feria sexta, Sabbatum, Dominica Dies), from which came the present Portuguese numbered system. Martin also tried to replace the names of the planets, but in that he was not successful. In Middle Ages, Galician-Portuguese still retained both systems (as seen in older texts), nowadays only Portuguese's sister language Galician uses the old Roman gods system. For that reason, the first day of the week in Portuguese is Sunday (Domingo).
The Slavic languages adopted numbering but took Monday rather than Sunday as the "first day".
Welsh, the closest living language to that of Roman Britain, faithfully preserves all the Latin names, even though the language itself is not descended from Latin: dydd Llun, dydd Mawrth, dydd Mercher, dydd Iau, dydd Gwener, dydd Sadwrn, dydd Sul.
In Irish, the Latin names are used for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Three days are named for the traditional Roman Catholic days of fasting and abstinence. Wednesday is "the first fast": An Chéadaoin; Friday "the fast": An Aoine; leaving Thursday as "the day between two fasts", An Dé idir dhá aoin, contracted to An Déardaoin.
In English all the days of the week are named after the ruling luminary, with most of the names coming from Germanic deities, such as Wodan (Wednesday) and Thor (Thursday). Sunday and Monday are named directly from the Sun and Moon.
Saturday is the only day named directly after a Roman god, though the Germanic god associated with each day is generally a calque of the corresponding divinity from the Roman calendar. Other Germanic languages generally follow the same pattern, although the German for Wednesday is Mittwoch and the Yiddish is Mitvokh (mid-week).
Icelandic is notably divergent, maintaining only the Sun and Moon (sunnudagur and mánudagur respectively), while dispensing with the names of the explicitly heathen gods in favor of a combination of numbered days and days whose names are linked to pious or domestic routine (föstudagur, "Fasting Day" and laugardagur, "Washing Day"). The "washing day" is also used in other North Germanic languages, although the "pagan" names generally are retained.
In the Hindu Calendar followed in South Asia and South-East Asia the days of the week (named after the planets, starting from Sunday) are called bhaanu vaasara (Sun), indu vaasara (Moon), mangal vaasara (Mars), saumya vaasara (Mercury), guru vaasara (Jupiter) bhrigu vaasara (Venus), sthira vaasara (Saturn).
The names of days in Hindi and Marathi are Ravivar (Sunday), Somvar (Monday), Mangalvar (Tuesday), Budhvar (Wednesday), Guruvar (Thursday), Shukravar (Friday) and Shanivar(Saturday).
The names of days in Urdu are Itwaar (Sunday), Peer (Monday), Mangal (Tuesday), Budh (Wednesday), But under the Muslim influence: Jumaaraat for Thursday, Jumaah for Friday and Haftah (seventh day) for Saturday.
In the linguistically unrelated South Indian dravidian language Tamil the days of the week are also named after the planets, in the same order as in the Romance languages and the Indo-Aryan languages - Thingal (Monday, Moon), Sevvaay (Tuesday, Mars), Puthan (Wednesday, Mercury), Viyaazhan (Thursday, Jupiter), Velli (Friday, Venus), Sani (Saturday, Saturn), Nyayiru (Sunday, Sun).
In the Sino-Tibetan language of Burmese, the days of the week, except for Sunday and Monday, named after the planets, are Sanskrit loan words. In order starting from Sunday, they are: Taninganway (Sino-Tibetan), Taninla (Sino-Tibetan), Inga (from Sanskrit 'Angara', "Mars"), Boddhahu (from Sanksrit 'Budha' "Mercury"), Kyathabaday (from Sanskrit "Vakyasapati"/"Bavahasapati"), Thaukkya (from Sanskrit 'Shukra' and combined with Pali 'Sukka') and Sanay (from Sanskrit "Shani").
In Japanese and Korean, the days of the week are named after the Chinese astrological week, which is based on the Indian luminary week. The Chinese associated the five classical planets with the Five Elements. Notably, the order of the planets follows the Indian week, and not the order of the Chinese elements. (See table below.) For example, the planet Mercury is associated with the element Water, and Wednesday (dies Mercuris) is called "day of water" (suiyoubi, in Sino-Japanese). These names of days of the week were introduced by the end of the first millennium CE to Japan and Korea, but they were not widely used in Japanese or Korean daily life until the late 19th century.
In modern Chinese, days of the week are numbered from one to six, except Sunday. Literally, the Chinese term of Sunday means "week day"(星期日 or 星期天). Monday is named literally "week one" in Chinese, Tuesday is "week two", and so on.
However, China adopted the Western calendar, putting Sunday at the beginning of the calendar week, and Saturday (星期六, meaning "week six" in Chinese) at the end .
A second way to refer to weekdays is using the word zhou (周), meaning "cycle." Therefore Sunday is referred to as zhoumo (周末), meaning "cycle's end" and Monday through Saturday is termed accordingly zhouyi (周一） "first of cycle," zhouer (周二 ) "second of cycle," and etc.
Another Chinese numbering system, found sometimes in spoken Chinese of southern languages (i.e. Cantonese/Yue, or Fukinese/Min), refers to Sunday as the "day of worship" (礼拜日 or 礼拜天) and numbers the other days "first [day after] worship" (Monday) through "sixth [day after] worship" (Saturday). The Chinese word used for "worship" is associated with Christian and Muslim worship, and the system's use may be connected with the arrival of Christianity, especially prevalent during in the 18th and 19th centuries in south coastal port cities.
In traditional Chinese calenders, days may still be referred to by their association with the sun, moon, and the Chinese elements of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth.
More details days of the week with notes on their origins compiled by Shlomo Lerman (PDF, 1.34MB)
Days of the week in many languages
Etymological Dictionary of Gurage (Ethiopic)"; ed. Otto Harrassowitz, 1979
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