Saturday, 7 June 2008

12月 12 Months

The ones reading this Blog, who are learning Japanese, surely know the 12 months in Japanese by now. They are very simple, since you just combine the numbers of 1 to 12 with month: 1月2月...12月.

Sure, but did you know the month have real names too? They are not used so much anymore, but it is interesting to know about them? Why? Because they tell you a lot about the culture. Take English or German months for example. Have you ever thought where they came from? No?

January: Janus, god of the doorway (Roman mythology)
February: februum, lat. purification (during Roman times, there was a purification ritual held on February 15th)
March: Martius was the first month of the year in Roman times, it was named after the god of war Mars
April: Aprilis was the second month of the year in Roman times. The etymology is uncertain, but maybe derived from lat. aperire = to open up (like the flowers in April)
May: also uncertain but probably based on the Greek fertility goddess Maia (lat. Bona Dea)
June: Juno, the wife of Jupiter head of the Roman pantheon
July: named after Julius Caesar (earlier name was Quintilis, the fifth month of the Roman calender)
August: named after Caesars successor Augustus (earlier name was Sextilis, sixth month of the Roman calender)
September: from lat. septimus = seven (seventh month in the Roman calender)
October: from lat. octo = eight (eighth month in the Roman calender)
November: from lat. novem = nine (ninth month in the Roman calender)
December: frpm lat. decem = ten (tenth month in the Roman calender)

Well now you know. Interesting isn't it, although it sure gets boring after Augustus. Still interesting to see that also the Romans partly used an easy intuitive number system for the month, same as Japanese today. But let's now have a look at the Japanese names, shall we?

1月 睦月 mutsuki affection month
2月 如月 kisaragi changing clothes
3月 弥生 yayoi new life; the beginning of spring
4月 卯月 udsuki a type of flower blooming in April
5月 皐月 satsuki a type of flower blooming in May (alpine rose)
6月 水無月 kinatsuki month of water (無 is inserted for the な na particle of adjectives, so it does not mean month without water, but watery month)
7月 葉月 hadsuki book month
8月 文月 fudsuki leaf month
9月 長月 nagatsuki long month
10月 神無月 kannadsuki month of gods (無 has the same function as in 6月)
11月 霜月 shimotsuki frost month
12月 師走 shiwasu priests run (because they are very busy with all the year-end festivals)

I like how some of the names are both funny and practical. In February you change from winter clothes to spring clothes, so let's call the month: "changing clothes". Or even better December is "priests run", because everyday you can see them run around and make preparations for the year-end festivals.

So why in the world did I stumble across this, you may ask. The reason weighs only a couple of pounds and is very cute. My language exchange partner Nakamura-san became father a couple of weeks ago and he and his wife gave the little baby the name 皐月 Satsuki. Having a curious nature, I asked him what the name means and where it comes from. Well and this started us marveling about English, German (German months have the same origins) and Japanese months.

From the 12 traditional names for month, apparently both 皐月 Satsuki and 弥生 Yayoi are still used for girl names in Japan.

soon Satsuki-chan will be able to leave the hospital, and I am invited to see her :D

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