Maybe you’ve read the comic books or seen some of the Marvel movies that feature a big blond guy named Thor, founding member of the Avengers and brother of Loki. But, Thursday is a bigger tribute to the Norse god of thunder than any movie or comic book upon which it’s based. After all, it is “Thor’s day.”
Who is Thor?
In Norse mythology, the original Thor is the oldest son of Odin and Earth’s goddess incarnate. As the strongest of the Norse gods, he is the god of thunder (the Swedish word for thunder, tordön, literally means “Thor’s din”), but he is also associated with wind, lightning, and oak trees. His magic hammer Mjölnir is a fierce mountain-flattening weapon. Mjölnir, which means “crusher,” is the root for the Russian and Welsh words for lightning. Early variations of his name include donar, thonor, and thunaraz.
Let’s not forget to mention the wonderfully vivid attribute of Thor; his chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, that Thor can slaughter, eat, then resurrect as good as new.
Roman scholars looked for commonalities between the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and the deities of lands occupied by the Roman Empire. Roman documents going back to the first century intermix Thor’s strength and hammer with Hercules’ bronze and club, but also with Jupiter, the Roman god of thunder and the sky.
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Why is Thursday named for a comic book character?
In the Roman calendar, the fourth day of the week was named for Jupiter (lovis Dies). During Roman occupation of Germanic territories, the calendar was borrowed and the association of Jupiter with Thor led to the naming convention for Thunor’s Day, eventually shortened to Thor’s Day. Germanic languages all use Thor as a root for the fourth day of the week: Torstai (Finnish), Torsdag (Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish), Donnerstag (German), Donderdag (Dutch). Meanwhile, Romance languages (those based on Latin) all originate from Jupiter: giovedi (Italian), jeudi (French), joi (Romanian).
Thor’s role in daily life became more prominent as Christianity spread through Germanic-speaking areas. Thor as a personal or place name was common through the 10th century, a channel for people to assert their original culture in a changing society.
Now that you know the namesake of Thursday, consider the absolutely bizarre Norse origin of Tuesday: a one-armed, completely obscure deity.