The Odd Original Name of February

Though February is the shortest month of the year, it often feels like the longest in cold, snowy climates. Why does the month have only 28 days?

First here’s a little history of our calendar. The original Roman calendar only had ten months, because the winter was not demarcated. In the 700s BC, the second king of Rome Numa Pompilius added January and February to the end of the calendar in order to conform to how long it actually takes the Earth to go around the Sun.The two new months were both originally 28 days long. It is lost to history why January acquired more days, though there are various unverifiable hypotheses. At that time, March 1 became New Years’ Day. Later, in 153 BC, the beginning of the year was moved to January 1.

The word February comes from the Roman festival of purification called Februa where people were ritually washed. There is a Roman god called Februus, but he is named after the festival, not the other way around. Other months, like January, are named after Roman gods. (Curious about the duplicity of January? Learn more here.)

The interesting linguistic story, though, lies in England. Before we adopted the Latin name for the second month, Old English used much more vibrant names to describe it. The most common Old English name was Solmonath, which literally means “mud month.” It is pretty clear what they were describing. A lesser-used term was Kale-monath, which meant “cabbage month.” We can imagine that the English were eating a lot of cabbage in February in the 1100s.

Ever wondered what the heck the “ides” of March were? Find out.

What do you think of February?