Origin and significance of the months in Italian

Here is a list of the months with their Italian translation, origin and significance.

Have you ever wondered why the months that make up the year have those strange names? The subdivision of time in years, months, weeks, and days is an ancient practice that helped civilizations keep track of events and define history.

The calendar we use today was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which, for this reason, is known as the Gregorian calendar. However, it is believed that the origin of the months’ names derives from Ancient Rome, as Romulus founder of Rome, instituted in 753 B.C.

The lunar calendar was divided into only ten months and started from the month of March. It was Rome’s second king, Numa Pompilius, who completed Romulus's work by adding two months, January and February. Almost all of the names of the months of the year born in this period were associated with the divinities most worshipped by the population.

Here is a list of the months with their Italian translation, origin and significance: 

  • January (Gennaio)

Dedicated to God Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. In fact, this month celebrates the start of the new year and ponders the end of the previous one.

  • February (Febbraio)

Derives from the Latin word “februum”, meaning purification. During this month, people were getting ready to welcome the spring season and prepare for war with sacrifices to atone for sins.

  • March (Marzo)

Originally considered as the first month of the year, it was named after Mars, the Roman God of War. During this month the Romans resumed their battles to conquer the known world.

  • April (Aprile)

Dedicated to the Etruscan goddess Apru, a derivation of the Goddess of fertility known as Aphrodite. Others believe it is linked to the Latin verb “aprire”, which means “to open” and refers to the advent of the season in which the flowers open.

  • May (Maggio)

Dedicated to Maia, the Goddess of growth and abundance, which was a characteristic of this month referring to the generosity and fertility of the soil.

  • June (Giugno)

Named after the goddess Juno, who was Zeus’ wife and represented the protector of marriage and birth. This month celebrated the existence of life, as it is often called the month of the Sun, being the period that opens the summer season.

  • July (Luglio)

Originally called “Quintilis” as it represented the fifth month of the year, but was later named after Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor assassinated in 44 B.C.

  • August (Agosto)

Originally called “Sextilis” as it represented the sixth month of the year. It was later named after the powerful Emperor Augustus, who won most of his battles during that period of the year.

The last four months of the year owe their denomination to what was originally their position in the lunar calendar. For this reason, their names refer to the numbers that go from seven to ten.

  • September (Settembre): Derives from the Latin word “Septem”, indicating the seventh month of the year.
  • October (Ottobre): Derives from the Latin word “Octo”, indicating the eighth month of the year.
  • November (Novembre): Derives from the Latin word “Novem”, indicating the ninth month of the year.
  • December (Dicembre): Derives from the Latin word “Decem”, indicating the tenth month of the year.

The names of the months derive from Latin, making them internationally recognizable. In many Italian schools, children are taught the names of the months with this nursery rhyme:

Gennaio freddoloso (Cold January)
Febbraio spiritoso (Funny February, referencing Carnival)
Marzo pazzerello (Crazy March)
Aprile mite e bello (Mild and beautiful April)
Maggio sognatore (May the dreamer)
Giugno cantatore (June the singer)
Luglio nuotatore (July the swimmer)
Agosto gran signore (August the great lord)
Settembre grappolaio (September brings the grapes)
Ottobre castagnaio (October brings the chestnuts)
Novembre triste e stanco (Sad and tired November)
Dicembre tutto bianco (All white December)