Russian months’ names and their etymology
02 May, 2019
Today I want to share with you a list of Russian months with their etymology, since it is in my belief that knowing where a word comes from will come in handy in the long run. Let me explain: Russian is an analytic language and its words are formed with suffixes and prefixes. So, even though it may seem useless at first, I’m pretty sure that getting used to “analyse” words and being able to “understand” them before finding a one-to-one translation will pay off and boost your learning. And, now, перейдём к делу (Let’s get straight to the point).
Autumn – Осень
September – Сентябрь
September owes its name to the old Russian 10-month calendar, which started in March following Roman traditions. In fact, it was the 7th month of the year, hence the name “сентябрь” that comes from “septem – семь” the Latin word for “seven”.
October – Октябрь
And here we go again, same as September goes for October’s name (октябрь) which comes from its position in the old calendar and originates from the Latin word “octo”, that is “eight – восемь”.
November – Ноябрь
Same for November, the 9th month, whose name has Latin roots too and can be considered a Russian adaptation of the word “Novem – nine”, since the Russian for nine is девять.
Winter – Зима
December – Декабрь
And last but not least of this series is the 10th month on the calendar: December. Believe it or not, its name comes from the Latin for “ten – десять”, that is, “decem”.
January – Январь
January is called this way in honour of Janus a Roman god, who was believed to be the protector of every entrance, door and of “ends or beginnings”. The god is usually represented as two-faced and his name comes from the Latin word “Janua”, that is “door” or “beginning”. For your interest, Russians took inspiration from the god’s appearance to coin a very meaningful term: “Двуличный Янус”, the “Two-faced Janus”, used to describe people that act or speak in a contradictory way.
February – Февраль
February or Февраль comes straight from the Latin word “februarius”, which derives from the name of a Roman ritual: the Februa. This was a propitiatory ritual that throughout the centuries was renamed “Lupercalian” first and then turned into the well-known Saint Valentine’s Day.
Spring – Весна
March – Март
Here’s the first of the god-linked ones: March, or better, Март. This months is named after Mars, the Roman god of War. And this is no surprise, since in Roman Times the preparatory celebrations that would have led to wartime began exactly in March.
April – Апрель
The Russian for April comes straight from the Latin word “Aprilis”, that is, the 4th month on Roman calendar.
May – Май
Here we go again. Another one, among Russian months, owing its name to a god. In this case the name comes from Maia, the Roman goddess, Atlas’ daughter, and Hermes’ mother. She was the goddess of fertility, so it seems quite legit to name the first month of harvest season after her.
Summer – Лето
June – Июнь
But the list of Russian months coming from a god’s name is not over yet. This is Juno’s turn, in fact июнь – June derives its name from the Roman goddess who was thought to be the protector of marriages and maternity.
July – Июль
This one can be defined as an outsider since it is the first month to be named after a person. In fact, July – июль is named this way in Julius Caesar’s honour because he was born in that month, which Romans used to call “Quintilis – fifth” up to then because it was the 5th month of the old calendar.
August – Август
Same as Quintilis happened for “Sextilis – sixth” the 6th month of the old calendar, which we all know as August nowadays. To make it clearer, the month got its name after 8 BC, when it was decided to name it after Octavius Augustus the first Roman emperor.
Apparently, we’re done with Russian months. But, for those of who are interested in knowing more about Russian words etymology, I’ll leave you this link to our blog (Where you can find some examples of loanwords from European languages). Hope you’ve enjoyed, and, stay tuned!