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Names of the days of the week and their meaning

A week of Saturdays – wouldn't that be nice? In the first volume of the famous “Sams” series of children's books by Paul Maar, the protagonist, Mr. Taschenbier, experiences just such a week.

In the world of the Sams series, the names of the days of the week are powerful enough to summon magical beings. But the magic only works after events corresponding to the weekdays' names have occurred: on Sunday the sun shines, on Monday Mr. Mon comes to visit, work (or “Dienst” in German) is on Tuesday (“Dienstag”), Wednesday (“Mittwoch”) is the middle (“Mitte”) of the week, on Thursday (“Donnerstag”) there's thunder (“Donner”), and Friday (“Freitag”) is free (“frei”) – then on Saturday (“Samstag”) the Sams arrives.

The series plays with the names of the week as its premise. But what do the names of the week actually mean, and where do they come from? And what about the names of the days of the week in other countries?

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Origin of the Seven-Day Week

Throughout the world and in all different cultures, the week is divided into seven days, something that's remained consistent for hundreds of years. There was an exception in the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1940, where for productivity reasons weekends were eliminated and the month was divided into five-day weeks, and later into six-day weeks. As the shift had negative consequences, the country returned to the seven-day week in 1940.

But let's look for a moment at the origins of the days of the week: in antiquity, the Etruscans used a nine-day week, as well as an eight-day week. This was, however, swiftly replaced by the Judaic seven-day week. Over the course of several centuries the concept spread – and not just of the seven-day week, but also the meanings of the names of the weekdays.

The Names of the Days of the Week are Planets and Gods

The weekdays take their names from Greek astrology – every day of the week was assigned to one of the heavenly bodies, which in turn got their names from the Greek and Roman pantheons.

  • Sunday – the sun
  • Monday – the moon
  • Tuesday – Mars
  • Wednesday – Mercury
  • Thursday – Jupiter
  • Friday – Venus
  • Saturday– Saturn
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The seven gods of the heavenly bodies: Diana/Monday, Mars/Tuesday, Merkur/Wednesday, Jupiter/Thursday, Venus/Friday, Saturn/Saturday, Apollo/Sunday

When the days of the week were exported to the rest of the world, these connections to Greek mythology were maintained but modified to suit regional cultures and prevailing religions. And they weren't just conveyed to Western Europe – even in Asia, the names of the days of the week carry meanings similar to those of ours.

Even if most Germans no longer worship pagan gods, the names of our days have deep roots in German polytheism, as the names of the Greek gods were replaced with German deities when the seven-day system arrived. For the most part, we still use these terms (with certain shifts in pronunciation) today.

It's safe to say that East Asian astrology adopted the Roman-Hellenic system in the fourth century, assigning the five traditional Chinese elements as follows:

  • Fire – Mars
  • Water – Mercury
  • Wood – Jupiter
  • Metal – Venus
  • Earth – Saturn

Indian astrology adopted these assignments as well, using its own names for them.

The days of the week have also, in certain places, taken on other regional traditions: in Thailand, for example, every day is assigned a color, and the celebration of one's birthday is pegged more to the day of the week (Monday, for example) than the exact date.

But the days of the week themselves are similar in many parts of the earth – whether you're in England or India, Thailand or Japan, Monday is the day of the moon.

There is, however, an alternative to the sun, the moon, jupiter, etc.: in many countries the names of the days of the week are not related to old pantheons, but instead are simply numbered. The exceptions, however, prove the rule.

Some systems also differ in where they start: is Monday or Sunday the beginning of the week? In many countries the week begins on Sunday, but – especially in nations of the former Soviet Union – Monday is considered the first day of the week.

By the way – until the end of 1975 Sunday was the first day of the week in Germany until the corresponding DIN-Norm (a standard produced by the German Institute for Standardization) was changed.

Meaning of the weekday "Monday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "Day of the moon"

  • Latin: dies lunae – dedicated to Luna, the moon goddess
  • English: Monday – Luna resembles Mani, the moon god of Nordic religion
  • German: Montag
  • French: lundi – "jour de la Lune"
  • Hindi: Somavār – named after Soma
  • Thai: Wan Chan – "wan" = day, "chan" = moon; "day moon"
  • Japanese: Getsuyōbi – the name contains the character for moon 月

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: first/second day

  • Hebrew: yom sheyni
  • Greek: Deftéra
  • Chinese: Xīngqīyī
  • Russian: ponedel'nik – "Tag nach dem Wochenende"

Meaning of the weekday "Tuesday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "Tag des Mars"

  • Latin: dies martis  – dedicated to war god Mars
  • English: Tuesday – the war god is called Tyr or Tiu in Nordic mythology
  • German: Tiustag
  • French: mardi – "jour de Mars"
  • Hindi: Mangalavār – named after Mangala
  • Thai: Wan Angkhān – "Day Mars"
  • Japanese: Kayōbi – the name contains the character for fire 火

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: second/third day

  • Hebrew: yom shlishi
  • Greek: Tríti
  • Chinese: Xīngqī'èr
  • Russian: vtornik

Meaning of the weekday "Wednesday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "day of Mercury"

  • Latin: dies mercurii – dedicated to the god Mercury
  • English: Wednesday – dedicated to the god Wodan
  • German: Mittwoch – the heathen name Wodanstag was replaced by a different name meaning "mid-week"
  • French: mercredi –"jour de Mercure"
  • Hindi: Budhavār – named after Buddha
  • Thai: Wan Phut – "day Mercury"
  • Japanese: Suiyōbi – the name contains the character for water 水

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: third/fourth day

  • Hebrew: yom revi'i
  • Greek: Tetárti
  • Chinese: Xīngqīsān
  • Russian: sreda – "Mitte der Woche"

Meaning of the weekday "Thursday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "day of Jupiter"

  • Latin: dies iovis – dedicated to the god Jupiter
  • English: Thursday – dedicated to Thor the god of thunder
  • German: Donnerstag – Donar is a different name for Thow
  • French: jeudi - "jour de Jupiter"
  • Hindi: Guruvār – named after Guru
  • Thai: Wan Phruehatsabodi - "dayJupiter"
  • Japanese: Mokuyōbi – the name contains the character for wood 木.

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: fourth/fifth day

  • Hebrew: yom khamishi
  • Greek: Pémpti
  • Chinese: Xīngqīsì
  • Russian: chetverg

Meaning of the weekday "Friday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "Day of the Venus"

  • Latin: dies veneris – dedicated to the love goddess Venus
  • English: Friday – dedicated to Frija from Nordic myth
  • German: Freitag
  • French: vendredi – "jour de Vénus"
  • Hindi: Shukravār – named after Shukra
  • Thai: Wan Suk – "Tag happy"
  • Japanese: Kin'yōbi – the name contains the character for gold/metal 金

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: fifth/sixth day

  • Hebrew: yom shishi
  • Greek: Paraskeví
  • Chinese: Xīngqīwǔ
  • Russian: pyatnitsa

Meaning of the weekday "Saturday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "day of Saturn"

  • Latin: dies saturni – dedicated to the god Saturn
  • English: Saturday
  • German: Samstag – after the hewish shabbat
  • French: samedi – "jour du shabbat"
  • Hindi: Shanivār – named after Shani
  • Thai: Wan Sao – "daySaturn"
  • Japanese: Doyōbi – the name contains the character for earth 土

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

Meaning: Shabbat or sixth day

  • Hebrew: yom Shabbat
  • Greek: Sávato
  • Chinese: Xīngqīliù
  • Russian: subbota

Meaning of the weekday "Sunday"

Meaning of weekday names related to gods/astrology/elements

Meaning: "day of the sun"

  • Latin: dies solis – dedicated to the sun
  • English: Sunday – dedicated to Nordic sun goddess Sunna
  • German: Sonntag
  • French: dimanche
  • Hindi: Ravivār – named after Ravi
  • Thai: Wan Āthit – "day week"
  • Japanese: Nichiyōbi – the name contains the character for 日

Meaning of weekday names related to their number

  • Hebrew: yom rishon
  • Greek: Kyriakí
  • Chinese: Xīngqīrì – "day of the sun"
  • Russian: voskresen'ye






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