We The Italians | Italian language: Names of months in Italian - part 1

Italian language: Names of months in Italian - part 1

Italian language: Names of months in Italian - part 1

  • WTI Magazine #149 Mar 19, 2022
  • 417

Hello everyone. This month we are going to review the names of the months in Italian. But to make it a little more fun I would like to talk a bit about where they come from and what they mean. Why did I decide to do it now that it is already March? Simple, because March used to be the first month of the year.

As usual, I’ve been using as reference two of the most important institutions for the Italian language: the Accademia della Crusca and the Treccani encyclopedia and vocabulary. Also, since I do not want to dump all the information on you at once, I’ll be splitting the year in two.

Let’s start from the beginning: gennaio – January. First of all, remember that in Italian the names of the months are written with all lower cases. I know it might seem weird, but it would be weirder for an Italian to read it with the upper case, unless, of course, they are the first word of as sentence (see next sentence). Gennaio comes from the Latin Ienuarĭus, which comes from Ianus – Giano in Italian and Janus in English, and it means “belonging to Giano.” But what is Giano? Or better, who are they? Giano was a Roman god who was very recognizable because he was always represented having two head and was the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, endings, and, as their double-face indicates, of duality. At first it was actually the 11th month of the Roman calendar (which had the year start on March 1st, so the 11th month was still what we consider January now), but was moved to being the 1st of the Gregorian calendar around the 2nd century B.C.E.

Febbraio – February, the shortest moth on the year comes from the Latin februarius, which comes from februus meaning “purifying” or “righting one’s wrongs” and it refers to the fact that the Romans often would dedicate this month to purification rites. As you can probably guess, in the Roman calendar it was the last month of the year (since the year started on March 1st) but was then moved to its current position in the Gregorian calendar. Frebruss is also the name of the Etruscan god of death and purification, which later became Febris (Febbre) for the Romans and whose rites, the Lupercalia took place in February and ended on February 14th, which was Saint Febronia before becoming the famous Saint Valentine’s Day.

Marzo – March comes from the Latin Martius which comes from Mars (Latin for...Mars) who was at first the god of agriculture and protector of spring, and only later he “merged” with Ares the god of war. It was the first month of the Roman calendar because Mars was considered Romulus’s father.

Aprile – April comes from the Latin aprīlis, an adjective whose etymology is still kind of a mystery. Some say that it means “the second month” since aporo means “second, following” and it used to be the second moth of the year. Others say that, just like March, it is dedicated to a god, in this case the goddess Venus whose name in ancient Greek is Aphròs, meaning “foam” (short form of the more famous Aphrodìtē and a reference to how she was born), which became Apru in Etruscan and then sneaked into Latin. And others say that it comes from the Latin verb aperireaprire, “to open” – since it’s the month that “opens” the season of blooming and blossoming and good weather.

Maggio – May comes from the Latin Maius, which probably refers to Maia, the Italic goddess of the lands and abundance and Mercury’s mother. Her name probably comes from Maius, meaning “greater” because she was the greatest goddess, and she was often identified with Earth itself and was considered to promote growth and the fertility of the land.

Giugno – June comes from the Latin Iūnius, which comes from Iuno, Giunone in Italian and Juno in English, and the Roman goddess it is dedicated to. Juno is the goddess of marriage (but I guess she wasn’t that lucky herself with her marriage) and protector of childbirth.

Did I cover your birth month yet? Do you like its meaning in Italian? I hope so!