How the English Days of the Week Got Their Names

Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture in Reykjavik

Getty Images / Anna Gorin

English speakers often take for granted the impact other languages have had on our own. The names of the days of the week, for example, owe much to the blend of cultures that influenced England over the years--Saxon Germany, Norman France, Roman Christianity, and Scandinavian.

Wednesday: Woden's Day

Woden’s connection to Wednesday draws its name from the one-eyed god known as Odin. While we associate him with the Norse and Scandinavia, the name Woden itself appeared in Saxon England, and elsewhere as Voden, Wotan (his old German moniker), and other variations, all across the continent. His image hanging from a tree with a single eye is reflected in many modern day religions. 

Thursday Is Thor's Day

The mighty Thunder God was respected as Thunor among our ancestor culture in England, and his own influence as both the principal deity of Iceland and the international movie-star in Marvel movies sits well alongside his more mysterious father.

Friday: Freyr or Frigg?

Friday can get tricky, as one can draw fertility god Freyr from the name, but also Frigg, Odin’s wife and goddess of hearth and home. Our common connotation shows Friday as a day of reaping (our paychecks) or returning home (for the weekend) so both could feasibly be the origins. A mythological mind might point to Frigg, our ancient mother, calling us home and giving us a family dinner.

Saturn-Day

Saturday pays homage to Saturn, that old force that appears in Rome, Greece. Many might associate the name with pagan rites like “Saturnalia” or solstice festivals, which were (and still are) incredibly popular in both Northern and Western Europe. Old father time rests on this day, which conventionally ends the week in both the US and the Middle East, as a day of rest.

Sunday: Rebirth as the Sun Returns

Sunday is just that, a day celebrating the sun and the rebirth of our week. Many Christian sects point to this as the day of ascension when the Son rose and went back to heaven, bringing with him the light of the world. Solar deities beyond the Son of God stretch back universally, found all over the world in every single culture there is, was, and will be. It’s fitting that it should have a day all its own.

Monday: Moon Day

Likewise, Monday pays homage to the moon, the principal body of night. Monday has a good deal in common with the German name Montag, which translates as "day of the moon." While Quaker heritage in the US calls it the second day, it is also the first day of the work week in Western culture, assuming that the first day is ascension on Sunday. In Arab and Middle Eastern cultures, Monday is also the second day of the week, which ends on Sabbath Day Saturday and starts again the day after, likely due to the shared Abrahamic religion, Islam.

Tuesday Honors the God of War 

We end this trip on Tuesday. In old German, Tiw was the god of war, sharing similarities with Roman Mars, from which the Spanish name Martes is derived. The Latin word for Tuesday is Martis dies, "Mars's Day." But another origin points to the Scandinavian God Tyr, who was also a god of war and honorable combat.