Telling Time


What should we call our months? The simplest solution would be to number them, but except for the occasional date that produces an interesting numeric sequence (like 9-11), this is also the dullest solution.

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As you can see, I'd prefer to use the European order of day-month-year rather than the American style month-day-year. It makes more sense going from the shortest unit to the longest in a straight line, rather than from mid-length to short to long. Also, putting the named component between the two numbers removes the need to punctuate -- 21 June 1998 versus June 21, 1998.

The second simplest sources for month names -- and a bit more interesting -- would be to use the associated zodiacal sign for each month. The problem here is that sun signs change about three weeks into each month, so the question would be whether to associate the sign with the month in which it begins (Taurus begins April 20) or with the month in which there is the greatest overlap (¾ of Taurus is in May).

Otherwise, we could cobble together month names based on the etymology of historic calendars. Most of these are rather haphazard. Following the Roman example and naming the first month Door might not be a bad idea, but if we continued using Roman names, we'd be stuck with our ninth month named Seven and our twelfth named Ten. Probably the best designed of all historic calendars was the French Revolutionary Calendar (FRC), which was a sort of timekeeping in the Metric System. Named by poets after the cycles of rural life, the Revolutionary months are easily translated into iconic glyphs, but as the calendar was aligned with the solstices, we're still faced with the same problem presented by zodiacal signs -- do we name a month after it's beginning or its end? The advantage is that -- unlike the Zodiac -- not many people are familiar with the FRC, so they won't notice if we fudge the starting dates a little.

You might think that while we're at it, why don't we just slide our months into alignment with the true solar calendar? Plant New Year's Eve on the Winter Solstice. That way, we could use either the Zodiac or the French Revolutionary months without having to differentiate between 4 Cancer (or Messidor) Traditional which falls around 25 June, and 4 Cancer (or Messidor) Observed, which would be the same as 4 July.

Well, stop trying to confuse me. Right now, I'm only trying to come up with names for the current systems of timekeeping. I'm not attempting wholesale calendar reform. Basically, all attempts at redesigning the calendar will hit the same two roadblocks. Our sacred week of seven days doesn't fit cleanly into the 365 days of a natural year, and we're afraid of having thirteen months.

The Best Calendar

If you want my opinion (Too bad. You're getting it anyway), the FRC is the best secular/solar solution -- 12 months of 30 days divided into decads of 10 days each. A monthless festival of 5 days (6 days on leap year) brings the total up to 365/366. Simple.

The only non-religious objection to the FRC is that workers assume a 10-day week would mean 8 days between weekends. The solution is to have two weekends per week. Instead of the current system of working 5 and resting 2 (28% of the week being weekends), you'd work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then have one of the new days, Uranusday, off. You'd go back to work Neptuneday, Plutoday, Thursday, Friday, and then get Saturday and Sunday off. Repeat. 30% of your days are days off, and each stretch of work is actually shorter. This would work perfectly except there's no Sabbath set aside for Christians. In practice, this was a major except-for, and the whole thing was scrapped when Napoleon restored Catholicism.

The best sacred/lunar calendar would consist of 13 months of four weeks apiece, creating a year of 364 days in which Sunday comes every seven days just as God intended. We'd always know which day of the week the 17th or 24th fell on without consulting a calendar (Tuesday). We could write legal documents that specified a due date without adding "... or the first business day thereafter". The major objection is that many of the same people who insist on seven-day weeks also have a superstitious fear of thirteen.

A possible solution would be to break up the thirteenth month and distribute it among the others, making 8 months of 4 weeks apiece and 4 months of 5 weeks apiece. Unfortunately, with 1/3 of the months 25% longer than the other 2/3, monthly budgets would grow complicated. You might have to stretch an unchanging paycheck across a longer month, while paying the larger rent that your landlord expects during the 4 larger months.

As a lunar year would drift off of the solar calendar by one day a year (or two on leap year -- basically 5 days per presidential administration), our ability to plan according to the seasons would get seriously out of whack. Each date would happen earlier and earlier.

Is this really a problem? Having the same weather occur on the same date is very important to a farming community. It's less so to an industrialized society, but it would still help to have a fixed date on which we change filters on the AC, crank up the snow plows, or fill the swimming pools. If we let the seasons drift, we'd get nostalgic about the dark, snowy nights of Christmas 20 year ago, even though it's now an autumn holiday falling closer to Thanksgiving. Merchants would have to redesign Rudolph as a camel. Halloween would fall closer to the Equinox; the sun wouldn't set early enough to go trick or treating, and it would be too hot to wear costumes. Eventually, July 4th would be too cold to go outside and watch the fireworks. Obviously, we'd have to inject a monthless week every five or six years to keep the seasons in line. Being outside of any month, we'd be unable to conduct monthly business during this week. Wooo. Party.

On the other hand, the whole point of having a lunar calendar was to allow pre-electric societies to plan nightime activities for the week of the full moon. Do we really need to do that any more? So we're back to where we started, looking for the best solar calendar again.

But I digress.

Month names:

Here's a list of which glyphs we might be able to use to translate the month names of several cultures:

Numerical Value Original Roman Meaning Astrological Symbol French Revolutionary Calendar Anglo-Saxon Dutch



[after Yule]



[sprouting cabbage]








[three milkings]



[first journey]





[Julius Caesar]


[second journey]













[winter full moon]











Native American Indian months:

Wm. Tomkins E.T. Seton
( __ )

February [hunger]
March [crow] [waking]

May [dig][grow]



[corn festival]
October [falling leaf]
November [beaver] [mad]
December [long night]

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Last updated December 2003

Copyright © 2003 Matthew White