Like all languages, Romanian has its own quirks, but one of the most interesting is the fact that there are two sets of names for the months of the year! Oh, and they have something in common with the words ‘cockroach’ and ‘reindeer’. How? Read our post to find out!
In a previous post, we talked about the Romanian days of the week, months, and seasons and how almost all these words are related to Latin.
Well, Romanian doesn’t just have one set of terms for the months of the year. It has two!
The current Romanian calendar – the Gregorian calendar – was adopted in 1919. Prior to this, Romanian had its own words for months of the year, and these are now referred to as traditional names of the months and are sometimes still used today.
Let’s take a quick look at them before we get into what they mean:
|English||current Romanian term||traditional Romanian term|
Interestingly, some of these traditional Romanian names are derived directly from Latin. This means that their use likely predates Slavic contact with the language, which happened around the 8th century. In contrast, the current Romanian month names passed from Latin to Romanian via Byzantine Greek and Old Church Slavonic and have been influenced accordingly.
Which month names came from Latin?
The traditional Romanian terms for January, February, March, April, and August come from the Latin names used in the Gregorian and Julian calendars:
- gerar is derived from januarius
- făurar is derived from februarius
- mărțișor is derived from martius, with the added diminutive -ișor
- prier is derived from aprilis
- gustar is derived from augustus
But if you talk to people about these months, they might tell you that there are some other meanings behind them. That’s because of something called folk etymology.
What is folk etymology?
Folk etymology refers to the process where people either create new words or change the spelling or meaning of existing words based on their own understanding or interpretation of them.
This can happen when people hear a word they’re unfamiliar with and try to make sense of it by connecting it to a more familiar word, or when they associate a word with a particular meaning that may not be accurate or consistent with its original meaning.
Connecting unfamiliar words to familiar words
Take the word ‘cockroach’. This only entered the English lexicon in the early 1600s, when it was borrowed from the Spanish cucaracha. Cuca refers to the ‘butterfly caterpillar’ and highlights similarities in appearance between the two insects. When English speakers heard this word, however, they heard the words ‘cock’ (rooster) and ‘roach’ (at the time, this was only used to refer to a type of fish).
The word ‘roach’ also changed slightly in meaning and by the 1800s, it was mainly used to refer to cockroaches.
Changing the understood meaning of words
How about the word ‘reindeer’? It’s easy to think that we can split this into ‘rein’ and ‘deer’ and that the term is somehow connected to Santa Claus, whose reindeer pull his sleigh.
Except, if we look at the German Rentier (‘reindeer’), we get a more comprehensive understanding. Ren comes from rennen, which means ‘run’. Tier is a term that means ‘animal’, and while ‘deer’ might now refer to a specific kind of animal, it comes from the Old English dēor which means – you guessed it! – ‘animal’!
So, what about those Romanian folk etymologies?
Of the names of the months that came from Latin, gerar, făurar, prier, and gustar all have meanings that can be pinned down to folk etymology.
|Traditional Romanian name||Explanation|
|gerar||connected to ger, which means ‘bitter cold’, as January is deep winter in Romania.|
|făurar||connected to a făuri, which means ‘to create’. Făurar can also mean ‘ironsmith’, who makes things that are used in spring, as well as ‘creator’.|
|prier||connected to a prii, which means ‘to have a good omen’. April was traditionally considered a good month to continue with the agricultural work that had begun in March, and for flocks of sheep to form.|
|gustar||connected to a gusta, which means ‘to taste’, as fruit begins to ripen and be ready to pick in August.|
Names derived from characteristics
Six of the remaining seven months had their names derived from typical characteristics of those months. This means they often refer to the natural world, which is a way for people to connect their lives to something meaningful to them.
|English||Traditional Romanian name||Characteristic|
|May||florar||floare means ‘flower’; a month of abundant vegetation|
|June||cireșar||cireș means ‘cherry tree’ and these ripen in June|
|July||cuptor||cuptor means ‘oven’; July is often the hottest month and is when wheat is ready to harvest|
|September||răpciune||răpciune is weather-related and refers to the bitter cold|
|September||viniceriu||vin means ‘wine’ and September is the month when most wine is produced|
|October||brumărel||brumă means ‘hoarfrost’, with -rel being a diminutive, so ‘little hoarfrost’; this is just beginning to appear in October|
|November||brumar||brumă means ‘hoarfrost’, which is prevalent during this month|
Interestingly, the terms viniceriu and brumar are also very similar Vendémiaire and Brumaire in the French Republican Calendar, a short-lived calendar created and implemented during the French Revolution to remove religious and royalist influences.
In this French Republican calendar, the month Vendémiaire, which began in late September, evolved from the Latin word vindemia, meaning ‘vintage’ and was associated with grape harvesting. The month Brumaire, which began in late October, came from the French word brume meaning ‘mist’ which in turn came from the Latin word bruma, meaning ‘winter cold’.
Wait… what about December?
December, or undrea in the Romanian folk calendar, is also connected to Latin, albeit in a slightly different way. Undrea comes from the word Îndrea, which is the Latin form of the name ‘Andreas’. This refers to Saint Andrew, whose feast day is 30th November and marks the beginning of the traditional Advent devotion.
Saint Andrew’s Day (30th November in the Gregorian calendar or 13th December in the Julian calendar) has a few pre-Christian Romanian traditions associated with it. Some of these have their origin in the Roman celebrations of the god Saturn, including the Saturnalia.
Today, Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Romania and the 30th November is a public holiday in celebration of this fact.
Which set of names should you use?
Like we said at the start, the traditional months of year are used less often nowadays, particularly in official contexts. If you use the modern terms, you’re going to be understood. Still, it’s worth knowing about the traditional names because you might hear them crop up now and again – not to mention the culture and history they encompass!
On the uTalk app, we help you learn the modern terms for the months of the year, and if you’re struggling with your Romanian pronunciation, don’t worry, because every one of them comes with audio. Get started learning Romanian today and discover more about this unique Romance language as you go.
Happy language learning!