Would you believe January was not always the first month of the year? The ancient Romans used a different calendar system, and their year began in March and ended in February!

Even though our modern system may be quite different from the ancient Romans’, they gave us something very important: the months’ names.

Let’s take a look at how the ancient Romans chose the names of the 12 months of the year.

March: The ancient Romans insisted that all wars cease during the time of celebration between the old and new years. Since March was the first month of the new year in ancient Rome, some historians believe the Romans named March after Mars, the Roman god of war.

April: Three theories exist regarding the origin of April’s name. Some say April got its name from the Latin word meaning “second” since April was the second month on the ancient calendar. Others claim it comes from “aperire,” a Latin word meaning “to open,” because it represents the opening of buds and flowers in spring. Still others think April was named after the goddess Aphrodite.

May: May was named after Maia, an earth goddess of growing plants.

June: Apparently, June has always been a popular month for weddings! The Romans named June after Juno, the queen of the gods and patroness of marriage and weddings.

July: July was named after Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Previously, July was called “Quintilis,” which is Latin for “fifth.”

August: August was named after Augustus Caesar in 8 B.C. Previously, August was called “Sextillia,” which was Latin for “sixth.”

Though we think of September, October, November and December as months 9, 10, 11 and 12, these months were 7, 8, 9 and 10 on the ancient Roman calendar. This is how they got their names.

September: September’s name comes from septem, Latin for “seven.”

October: October’s name comes from octo, Latin for “eight.”

November: November’s name comes from novem, Latin for “nine.”

December: December’s name come from decem, Latin for “ten.”

February: Around 690 B.C., Numa Pompilius turned a period of celebration at the end of the year into a month of its own, named after the festival Februa. This is how February got its name.

January: Later, Pompilius added another month to the beginning of the year and named it January after Janus, the God of beginnings and endings.

In 1582, Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar, so most western nations began celebrating the start of the year on January 1. This new calendar became known as the “Gregorian calendar.”

However, England and the American colonies continued to celebrate the new year on the date of the spring equinox in March. It was not until 1752 that the British and their colonies finally adopted the Gregorian calendar.


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    • Hi, Cami! Thanks so much for commenting today! The ancient Romans were the ones who gave us the names for the months that we still use today! We think it’s fun to learn new things, don’t you? :-)

  1. Yeah, it’s awesome. I was on this website first yesterday and I love it! I know so much now. :) Thanks, Wonderopolis, I’ll be sure to tell my friends about this.

    • We think that is a GREAT idea, Cami! Thank you for spreading the word about Wonderopolis…you’re an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis!
    The video is so cool! Now I know sign language! Two facts that I learned from this article is that ancient Romans used a calendar that began in March and ended in February and that In 1582 Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar, so most western nations began celebrating the start of the year on January 1. This is known as the “Gregorian Calendar.” Two new vocabulary words are patroness and equinox. A wonder I have is “What are some holidays that the ancient Romans celebrated?”

    • WOW! Those are some super cool facts and vocab words, Team McNeil #21! Thanks for sharing them with us today and thanks for letting us know you liked the video for this Wonder. We’re not sure about ancient Roman holidays, but that sounds like something fun to WONDER about in a future Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Hi, LOL! Welcome to Wonderopolis! Wonderopolis, a GREAT place to learn and share, is sponsored by the National Center for Family Literacy. You can learn more by clicking on this link: http://www.famlit.org/. Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

    • Hey there, Nate, we have lots of Wonder Friends here at Wonderopolis who help with research for each Wonder! We go to the library, use reputable sources on the Internet, and talk to as many experts as we can! :)

    • Thanks to you and your son for WONDERing about the calendar today, Aletta! We’re glad to be a part of your time together! It’s great to see you today, and we hope to Wonder with you both soon! :)

    • That’s awesome news, Bethany, we’re glad this Wonder and your homework are connected! We Wonder what you learned from our calendar Wonder… and if you and your classmates are studying the months of the year in school?! :)

  3. This is beyond AWESOME! The whole ‘September’ meaning ‘7’ and etc. is pretty cool trivia to know. I’m excited about learning the little things. Hahaha I will for sure visit this site more often. Thanks!

    • We love your enthusiasm, Jimmy! Thanks for telling us all about what you learned today– the months of the year are very interesting! We are happy to hear you enjoy learning about the little things; sometimes details are the most interesting part when it comes to learning something new! We can’t wait to Wonder with you again! Have a great day! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Ignacious, thanks for sharing your comment- we really appreciate it. We would be happy to address your concerns about any incorrect information! You can email us at hello@wonderopolis.org with any concerns you have! Have a great Monday! :)

  4. I love this!! It is very interesting. I have learned a lot with this Website. I like to know a lot about things and it’s really fun.

    • That’s awesome news, Wonder Friend Keegan! It’s been lots of fun to Wonder with you– we look forward to seeing you soon! Have a SUPER weekend! :)

    • That’s terrific, Wonder Friend April! We are so glad you shared your comment about your awesome name– we bet it’s cool to have such a lovely, Springtime name like yours! :)

  5. Hi I also love your sites, I got an A for my project thank you for teaching me how the months got their names Wonderopolis.

    • Thanks so much, Wonder Friend April! That’s great news– an A on your project… WOHOOO! We’re sending you virtual high fives for your hard work! :)

  6. Excellent info, I just have 1 question I don’t see asked if the original calender only had 11 months how many days were there in a month? I was born in March intresting to know it’s the first month.

    • Great question, Wonder Friend James! Historically, most of the months were pretty similar to the number of days in the month today. For example, May has always had 31 days, but January had 29 days originally, but now it has 31! March was originally the first month, as you noted! Perhaps you can celebrate your birthday during January AND March! :)

  7. I love this info, but I am confused about something. It states that the celebration held at the end of the year was made into a month of its own and named February, and then January was added to the beginning of the year.

    If you go by that, the months should be January March April May June July August September October November December February.

    So how did those months get switched?

  8. Thanks so much for WONDERing with us today, Angel! We think you’ve done a great job of asking questions and WONDERing about the months of the year on your own. Nice work! :)

    The month of February was considered to be at the end of the year on the Roman calendar. All that changed when the Gregorian calendar became popular, which is what we follow today! :)

  9. I had no clue that February and January was the 11th and 12th month. Thank you for putting this video on here. You taught me something I had no clue about. :)

    • You are so welcome, Mikayla! It is WONDERful to have you WONDERing and learning with us today! It sounds like you learned a lot! Keep WONDERing, Wonder Friend! :-)

  10. This is great and very informative write up, but It could be more convincing if it’s cited with references or source of information. This way, it would sound scholarly.

    Can anybody also share information as to the date of origin and who’s the Pope created or made a decree on some Pagan rituals to be adapted to the Roman Church worship so the Pagans would join the Roman Catholic Church?

    Please use citations or references.

    • Hi, Frank! Thank you for your suggestions. We will definitely take that into consideration as we make improvements to Wonderopolis. We currently do not have any Wonders about the Roman Catholic Church. We typically take Wonder Questions from our community, and the most popular questions will become written Wonders of the Day. Here is the link where you can submit a question: http://wonderopolis.org/what-are-you-wondering/?showform=true Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

    • April is a nice month to be born, Ariana! Flowers begin to bloom and leaves start growing on trees! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  11. Before there was a “Roman Calendar”, YHVH, Yehovah, Creator of the Universe, set the lights in the heavens for “times and for seasons”. Later, when He made a Covenant with ancient “Israel”, He established the “moonths”, and said that the “moonth” of the Aviv, or Abib, in the spring, would be the “beginning of moonths for them”, since His calendar was a lunar calendar, and was established according to the phases of the moon, not the solar calendar, in honor of the sun-god, “Ra”. His calendar is the Biblically, agriculturally, and astronomically correct calendar, but it has been lost to His creation and to His own Covenant people. The Sep, Oct, Nov, and Dec values of those “moonths”, would fit precisely with the Biblical calendar, as 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th “moonths”. Same with days of the week…which YHVH also established. 1st day, 2nd day, 3rd day, 4th, 5th, 6th, and Sabbath, which is the 7th day. Since everyone has also “forgotten” that sequence, in contradiction to what we were commanded to do, to “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it set apart”, (holy), and God, YHVH, is a God of order…

    • Hi, Jennifer Schmidt! Thanks for sharing your opinion about this WONDER. We recognize that our WONDER friends have many different opinions and can always respectfully disagree. In this WONDER, we are discussing the historical findings about how the months got their names. We hope you understand and continue to WONDER with us. There are over 1,400 WONDERS you can explore! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How did the months of the year get their names?
  • Have years always started in January and ended in December?
  • What is the Gregorian calendar?

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Wonder #89- Calendar Static Image2Vimeo Video

Try It Out

It’s almost time to throw out your old calendar and welcome a new one — and a new year! But don’t throw out that old calendar just yet. Recycle it!

Collect old calendars from your friends and neighbors and use them to make a variety of fun crafts, including greeting cards, funny pictures or a puzzle.


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Some calendars aren’t what they seem. Visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History online exhibit of Lakota Winter Counts calendars.


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Wonder What’s Next?

Now that you know how the months got their names, get ready to explore a time-honored tradition inspired by Janus of January. Tomorrow we’ll bid farewell to an old year and welcome the promises of a new one.

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