French Days of the Week

In this post we will have a quick look at the different French names of the days of the week. There is a strange link between the French and English names and perhaps knowing this link will help you learn the French day names.

Why Seven?

Why do we have seven days of the week? Why is it that the French and other countries that don’t speak English also have seven days in the week? Why is seven such a special number anyway?

In order to understand why seven is so important we have to look back a few thousand years ago, before the internet, TV, movies or even the radio. Back when people sat around campfires in the summer and looked up at the stars.

The sky at night is full of stars. Stars travel uniformly across the sky at night all going the same direction and at the same speed. The few exceptions the ancient Greeks named “wanderers” (in Greek planētēs.) We know them now as planets.

There are seven heavenly bodies that regularly appeared in the sky (and still do) and it is from these seven heavenly bodies that we get the days of the week. The Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.

The first two, the sun and the moon aren’t technically planets under the modern revised definition of the word. And yet they don’t travel with the rest of the stars across the sky so they technically are wanderers under the original Greek meaning of the word.

The names of the days of the week were first introduced into Rome from Egypt in the 1st and 2nd century.

Getting to the point of this post. The days of the week are named after the planets and Greco-Roman gods. The days of the week in French are the French name variations of the Greco-Roman gods. The English (Anglo-Saxon Germanic) versions of the days of the week are actually Germanic translations of the Greco-Roman gods.

It was sometime before 700 A.D. that the Teutonic ancestors of the English renamed the days of the week after the Norse gods.

The French order of the Days

novembre-01
The week starts with lundi (Monday).

Most French calendars start with Monday as the first day of the week. The reason for this may be that in the Bible Sunday is seen as the day of rest which is the seventh day.

French do not capitalize the days of the week unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

The French days of the week all contain the syllable ‘di’. Which just means day. Sunday (dimanche) begins with ‘di’ and the rest of the French day names end with it.

Lundi = Monday

Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » "A Trip to the Moon"
Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » “A Trip to the Moon”

Lundi comes from “lune”, which is the French word for moon.

Trivia: French Musketeer Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 – 1655) wrote one of the first Science Fiction stories ever recorded about taking a trip to the moon.

The story was a political satire, and was called «Contenant les Estats & Empires de la Lune» “Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon”, and was published two years after his death in 1657. In the story Cyrano sailed to the moon in a sort of balloon. (The first hot air balloon was invented in France 1783.)

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) wrote «De la Terre à la Lune» “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1858. Cyrano was truly ahead of his times.

Monday is a shortening of moon-day.

Mardi = Tuesday

Mars
Mars, the Roman god of war.

Mardi is named after the Mars the Roman god of war. Most Roman soldiers were also farmers so Mars was the god of both war and agriculture. Before Rome had a full time professional army the military season, for Roman farmers, began in October. After the harvest, the farmers went into training for war.

The Roman campaigning season ended in March (which is also named after Mars in both French and English). In March all the farmers could go back to their families. The month of March («mars» in French) is when most of the festivals of Mars were held.

 

Tyr god of war
Tyr god of war

Tuesday: is named after Tyr. Tyr was the Norse god of war. It is from “Tyr” that we get the word “Teutonic”.

Tyr had only one hand as his other hand was bitten off by a giant wolf named Fenrir. The wolf Fenrir was said to be the son of Loki, the trickster god.

The story goes that Tyr put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while Fenrir was bound with unbreakable chains. Tyr lost his hand but was able to save the gods from Fenrir.

Mercredi = Wednesday
(This is a bit of a mismatch)

Mercury
Mercury

Mercredi: Is the day of Mercury.

Mercury is the son of Jupiter, from Jupiter’s affair with the daughter of Atlas. Jupiter’s wife Juno, the queen of the gods, was known for being very cruel to her husband’s bastard children.

Mercury never had a very high standing with the Olympic gods. He is the god of thieves and has the job of taking fallen soldiers to the fields of heaven.

The Roman heaven was called “Elysium” or the “Elysian Fields“. “The fields of {Roman} heaven” translates into French as «les Champs du Elysees». Which is the name of one of the most famous streets in Paris.

 

Odin
Wise Odin had only one eye. He sacrificed the other eye in exchange for knowledge.

Wednesday: is Wodin or Odin’s day. Odin of course was the father of the Teutonic gods. His Roman equivalent should have been Jupiter. However when Julius Caesar first traveled to Gaul and Germany he mistook the widespread worship of Odin as being worship of Mercury.

The ancient Romans believed that all other cultures worshiped the same gods that they did only under different names. When visiting (or invading) a new country a Roman would ask about the nature of the local gods. All gods were given duties, such as god of lightning, or god of the sea, etc. The Roman would then try and figure out which of these barbarian gods corresponded to the Roman gods.

In Teutonic mythology it is Odin that receives soldiers that have fallen in battle to Valhalla. This is why Caesar mistook Odin, who was the king of the gods with Mercury, a lesser servant god.

 

Jeudi = Thursday
(another mismatch)

Jupiter
Jupiter, King of the sky holds lightning bolts in his right hand.

Jeudi: is the day of Jupiter, who was sometimes called Jove. (“By Jove!”)

Jupiter is the Roman father of the gods and King of Olympus. He was also the god of Thunder.

Jupiter’s father was Saturn, whom he did not get along with. Saturn was afraid of his children and so he ate them when they were born.

Jupiter led a rebellion. Because Jupiter and his siblings were immortal they survived being eaten and were set free by Jupiter. They were then able to rule the world.

Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats.
Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats. The word Swedish word for “Billy-goat” is »getabock». Which also is used as an euphemism for “playboy” or “stud” in Ingmar Bergman movies. Thor has a two-stud powered set of wheels!

Thursday: is Thor’s day. Thor the son of Odin and his Olympic equivalent should have been Hercules. (Except Hercules was half human. So Hercules was only a demigod, while Thor was the son of the King and Queen of the gods.)

Thor may have been confused with Jupiter as Thor is also the god of Thunder.

 

 

Vendredi = Friday

Venus
Venus, goddess of love and ancestor of Julius Caesar, who reinvented the Roman Calendar.

Vendredi: is the day of Venus.

Venus is the goddess of love and was said to be the mother of a Trojan man named Aeneas. Aeneas survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy settling in the area which one day would be known as Rome. Aeneas was a founder of the Roman race. Julius Caesar claimed to be related to Aeneas and therefor Venus.

It should be pointed out that in French (and all the other Romance languages that assign gender to words) that the days of the week are masculine, even vendredi, despite being named after a goddess.

Freyja on her chariot pulled by two cats.
Freya on her chariot pulled by two cats. (She could be the goddess of the internet if she were around today.)

Friday: Friday may be named after one of two goddesses Frigg or Freya Whom may be the same goddess. No one is sure.

Frigg was the wife of Odin. Frigg was the patron of marriage and motherhood, love and fertility.

Freya had many of the same characteristic as Frigg but had a chariot pulled by two cats.

(In the movie “Thor” (2011) the thunder god asks a pet-shop owner if he has any dogs or cats that are big enough to ride.)

 

Samedi = Saturday

Saturn father of Jupiter
Saturn father of Jupiter

Samedi: Comes from the Latin words “dies Saturni”, it was Saturn’s day to the ancient Romans.

Saturn was the father of Jupiter. He was a Titian. Titians were the giants that came before the Olympic gods.

The scythe that Saturn holds may be inspired by the rings of Saturn which might be visible to the naked eye. (I’m not sure).

Saturday – is also named after Saturn.

 

 

Dimanche = Sunday

Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the 'Sun King' (1638 - 1715)
Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the ‘Sun King’ (1638 – 1715)

Dimanche: The name dimanche comes from its Latin name Dominica, Day of God or Day of our lord.

Sunday: day of the sun comes from the Latin “dies solis” which was the name of a Pagan Roman holiday. The day was renamed Dominica some time after Rome was converted to Christianity, by Constantine the Great (272 AD – 337 AD.)

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