How can I name my days of the week?

Constructed Languages Asked on August 20, 2021

In my conworld, months are divided into twelve-day weeks. That seems a bit too long (since I recall that people complained that the ten-day weeks of the French Republican calendar were too long), so I’ve divided my week into two halves, so I don’t want the names for the days to have numbers, in order to avoid silliness like “first firstday” or “second thirdday.” I know that English days of the week are named after Norse gods, but since my months are named after gods, I want to avoid that, too.

What are other attested etymologies for names of days of the week, in either traditional calendars or the modern Gregorian one?

3 Answers

While in English (and German) the days are named after (North-)Germanic gods or the sun and the moon, the months are also name after gods (and emperors), albeit from a different set (Roman), with some numerical ones thrown in (September/October/November/December); so there is no need to be consistent.

In Irish it's similar: some names have been taken from Latin, others have been added in with cultural/religious significance.

I was just looking at another language which is from a different family (Hawai'ian), but I guess they no longer have the weekdays they had before they had contact with Western powers: their days are literally "Night-one" (Po'akahi) to "Night-six" (Po'aono), plus Sunday being "Pray Day" (La pule). The month names are just localised versions of the English ones ("Ianuali", "Pepeluali", etc). Indonesian weekday names also seem to be derived from the names of (arabic) numerals.

You could choose anything where you've got a set: celebrities/rulers, planets, plants, animals, whatever. I don't think anyone would look at it and think it weird to have a "fox-day", or an "oak-day". Add a regular prefix or suffix to the word that means something like "day", and it should look alright.

And if you have two half-weeks, why not have an animal half followed by a tree-half?

Correct answer by Oliver Mason on August 20, 2021

The modern weekdays are actually not named directly after gods, but after planets. This system started with the Babylonians, who named each day (*) after one of the seven classical planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and the Sun. This system was borrowed by the Egyptians, then the Greeks, then the Romans, then various Germanic peoples, using local equivalents to the Babylonian names each time, which is why we now have "Sunday" and "Monday" (from "sun" and "moon") and "Saturday" (from Saturn, who had no Germanic equivalent) alongside an eclectic assortment of Germanic deities.

If astrology is important in your conculture, a similar system would make sense. You could name the days of the week after planets, constellations, important stars, or any heavenly objects that are important to these people.

(*) Strictly speaking, they assigned each hour to a planet, then named each day after the planet that governed its first hour. Cassius Dio has a more elaborate explanation.

Answered by Draconis on August 20, 2021

Following all the restrictions given in the question, I propose using letters of the writing system as names for days of the week.

If your society is literate and the number of symbols in the writing system is relatively small, the canonical order of letters is going to be very well known.

I don't know of any natural languages that actually do this, although the heavenly stems were historically used to label days of the week based on which sacrifices and rituals were supposed to be performed when. So, the heavenly stems form a small closed system with additional meaning besides designating a day of the week.

Tying the symbols-as-days-of-week to a religion, current or historical, is probably a good way to make the system plausible in your conworld.

So, you specifically mentioned not wanting to name days after numbers, but some very widely spoken languages do exactly this.

I think you can make the 12-day week in two halves thing make sense by having a duodecimal number system with six as a sub-base. In a system like this, some or all the numbers in the 7 to 12 range would be derived from the words for 1 to 6.

In Mandarin Chinese, the days of the week are simply numbered, with Sunday being an exception to the pattern.

In addition, some number systems have a sub-base.

For instance, here is a numeral system developed for an Inuit language with a vigesimal number system by speakers of the language. The number system has a sub-base of 5, which is reflected in the forms of the numerals.

Here is the table in the article reproduced below. The system is not completely regular, but many numbers in the 1-20 range, particularly those congruent to 2 or 3 mod 5 are transparently derived from a small multiple of 5 followed by the word for 2 or 3. Some numerals have irregular forms or are represented subtractively like 9, 14, 19.

0         1                2                   3                    4
-         atausiq          malġuk              piŋasut              sisamat

5         6                7                   8                    9
tallimat  itchaksrat       tallimat malġuk     tallimat piŋasut     quliŋuġutaiḷaq

10        11               12                  13                   14
qulit     qulit atausiq    qulit malġuk        qulit piŋasut        akimiaġutaiḷaq

15        16               17                  18                   19
akimiaq   akimiaq atausiq  akimiaq malġuk      akimiaq piŋasut      iñuiññaŋŋutaiḷaq


Answered by Gregory Nisbet on August 20, 2021

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