Why It’s Called Sunday


You ever wonder why Sunday is called Sunday? Check out this NWS forecast. Notice how, despite all the bad weather on both sides, the weather on Sunday was sunny. If you think that’s just a coincidence that happened for one forecast for one week for one city in Wisconsin, you’d be wrong. An exhaustive search of weather archives throughout the world shows Sundays everywhere are sunny over 75% of the time! Browse through the NWS Archives for your area and you may be surprised.

Yes, you may be surprised — to find Sunday is no more or less sunny than any day of the week. This post is an April 1st joke, albeit belated. The opening paragraph is balderdash, but the forecast is real. When I saw it, the juxtaposition of such terrible weather around a lone sunny day, and that day being Sunday (at 1/7 odds), was somehow amusing. And yes, I’m often easily amused.

Never one to waste an opportunity to inform my readers, I’ll seque from the joke to a related question: How did the days of the week get their names? Different languages have their own series of names, of course, but we’ll focus on English. Curiously, in virtually all cultures the week has seven days. Read why that happened in my Oct 24, 2016 post: Why the Week has Seven Days.

The names used in English have their ultimate roots in the names of Greek and Roman gods. Because English draws on Greek, Latin, and Germanic roots, there’s some “cross pollination” among these languages. Here’s the day-by-day summary:

MONDAY Monday is the day of the Moon — for no good reason other than the Moon is a conspicuous celestial object following its own monthly cycles. In Old English it was Mon(an)dæg which later morphed into Monday. Interestingly, though the Greeks did have a goddess of the Moon (Selene) she got bumped.
TUESDAY Tuesday started out as dies Martis in Latin, named for Mars, the Roman god of war. But the German god of war was Tiu, which spawned Tiwsday in Old Germanic, and over time that became Tuesday.
WEDNESDAY The Germanic equivalent of the Roman god Mercury was the equally swift Woden. In Latin the day was dies Mercurii. In Old Germanic it was Woden’s day, eventually Wednesday in English.
THURSDAY In Latin the day was dies Jovis, after the Roman god Jupiter (aka Jove). In Roman mythology, Jupiter is the god who creates thunder and lightning. Thor is the Norse god with the same powers, so the day became Thor’s day which in modern English is Thursday.
FRIDAY Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty. In Latin her day was known as dies Veneris. The Norse goddess of love and beauty was Frigg, and the Teutonic goddess of love and beauty was Fria. Probably both led to the Germanic Frije-dagaz, which in English became Friday.
SATURDAY Saturn is the Roman god of agriculture. In Latin the day was dies Saturni. From there, with little change, we arrive at the English Saturday.
SUNDAY And finally, the real source of Sunday’s name: The first day of the week was named after the Sun: dies Solis in Latin. In Old Germanic that became Sunnon-dagaz. The English name has simplified to Sunday. As with Selene, the Greek god of the Sun (Helios) was bumped.

We’ll be back next Moonday with the usual real science. No joke.

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2 comments on “Why It’s Called Sunday”

  1. Always enjoyable and educational. Dan, I can tell you are never ever bored!

    1. Thanks Linda. I was a bit concerned about the joke … I could easily imagine that forecast and first paragraph (only) ending up on social media. 🙂

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