May/June 2006


So I was loitering in Book Again the other day, interfering with both the hordes of customers taking advantage of our 50% Off Sale as well as with my mother and her over-worked co-workers as they attempted to help said customers take advantage of said sale. I was, among other things, desperately searching for a topic for the new folklore column, which was due, extremely due, inordinately and very nearly PAST due!

Diana at some point happened to make a comment about how much she enjoyed said columns, especially the ones that dealt with the origins of things.

You therefore have Diana to thank for the following—after all, what is more suitable for a May / June column than the origin of the names May and June?

Truth be told, this was intended to be a June-specific piece, but, as I soon learned, the two months are inextricably intertwined. And there are two possible origins for each name. From the best information currently available to us, we suspect that both theories are in part true to some extent, and that a sort of double meaning may actually have been intended, as Origin One pays homage to political movers and shakers of the day (always a useful thing when one is a Roman Emperor trying to keep himself from ending up like Julius Caesar), whereas Origin Two pays homage to the gods, which is always endearing to the common folk.

Now, the months of September through December were merely number derived from the start, back when March was the first month of the year—hence September means "the seventh month", October the eighth, etc.

Originally July and August followed this pattern, as Quintilis (5th month) and Sextilis (6th). However, after the death of the quickly lamented Julius Caesar and subsequent triumphs of his chosen successor Augustus, the two months were changed in honor of the two: July (for Julius) and August (for Augustus).

Now, the Emperors typically had absolute power, but Rome did have a legislature, and, as there was already an unfortunate precedent of unpopular Emperors finding themselves surprised at coming to rather unexpected and sudden ends, this legislature had a certain amount of, shall we say, pull...

The two bodies were Maioribus, which meant the house of older men (the Major house), or "Maiores", and the Junioribus, which meant the house of young men (the Junior house), or "Juniores"—much like the original conception of the House of Lords vs Commons, or indeed our own Senate and House of Representatives. In a time when months were being renamed after recent emperors, it is a small step to imagine the inherent logic in naming two after the respective houses of Roman Law: so May for the "Maiores" and June for the "Juniores".

The other theory holds that May was named for Maia, the Roman goddess of Spring, which would be a very natural choice. It is then a very small step indeed to see the logic in deciding that it would only be right and prudent to name the next month after the Number One Roman goddess (who might otherwise feel slighted). Her name was Juno.

Now, Juno was known to the Vikings as Freya, from which we get "Freya's Day", or Friday. She was married to Odin, known to the Germans as "Woden", from which we get "Woden's Day", or Wednesday.

And fellow scholars and/or comic book aficionados will recall that Odin and Freya had a son: Thor, from which we get "Thor's Day" or Thursday.

This column is already longer than it ought to be, but I must leave you with the following bit of June wisdom, from an ancient English rhyme:

"Who comes with Summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth
With ring of agate on her hand
Can health, wealth and long life command"

Happy Birthday, Mom and Mike!

Joe ........