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
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.