Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Name for Every Month

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

??????? ????: the "top of the head" of the year, i.e., the month of July

One of the interesting effects of dacha life is that you begin to lose track of the days of the week. You stop marking the days as Monday or Saturday, and instead think in terms of "the day it rained" or "the scorcher."

Lost in the haze of days out at my dacha, I started wondering about Russian calendars, and I discovered that I've simply reverted to the old Russian way of experiencing days and months.

From recorded time, ancient Russians had 12 months, but until the 12th century -- and until much later in many places -- the names of the months were very different from what we know now. They also varied by region and described either the weather, what was happening in nature or the work that was traditionally done.

January: ????????? (mid-winter) or ???????? (from ????? -- blue -- when everything is colored with the bluish tint of rime).

February: ???????? (from ????? -- when things begin warming up) or ????? (from ???? -when the undergrowth is culled).

March: ?????????? (from ?????????, thawed patches of snow) or ????? ("dry"; when peasants check to see how the earth is drying out).

April: ???????? (from ?????? ???? -- when the snow is chased away); ??????? (from ???c??, when plants begin to bloom); or ????????? (from ?????? -- birch -- and ???? -- ashes; when birch tree ashes are used to fertilize the land).

May: ??????? (from ?????, when grass appears).

June: ????????? (when the grain -- ???? -- grows high), or ???? (a term for grasshoppers or cicadas that begin their serenade).

July: ??????? ???? (the "top of the head of the year"); ?????? (from ??????, when crops are cut); ??????? ("red" -- when berries ripen); or ????? (when the ???? -- linden tree -- blooms).

August: ??????? (from ??????, to salt, when vegetables are put up) or ??????? (from ????, the sickle used to harvest).

September: ??????? (from ??????, downcast) or ???? ("windy").

October: ???????? ("when leaves fall") or ????????? ("the time of weddings").

November: ?????????? (middle of the winter months) or ??????? (from ????? -- pile -- when the frozen earth is "piled up").

December: ??????? (the time of cold).

What lyrical and descriptive words for plain old months! What a shame Russian didn't retain them as many other Slavic languages did. We English speakers would have had an easier time right after Russia accepted the Western names of the months: ???????, ??????, ?????, ??????, ???, ????, ????, ??????, ??????????, ?????????, ????????, ????????. Russians seem to have suffered with these unpronounceable and incomprehensible names, and over the centuries the names were Russified to their present form.

Days of the week were easier to understand -- and there were less of them. Ancient Slavs seemed to have a six-day week: ?????? ("?? ????," "no work," i.e., Sunday) ??????????? (Monday, the day that follows ??????), ??????? (Tuesday, the second day), ?????? (Wednesday, the middle day), ?????????? (Thursday, the fourth day), and ?????? (Friday, the fifth day). There was no Saturday -- that came later, when the Slavs accepted Christianity and modified the ancient Hebrew name of the day to ???????. At that time, the first day of the week became ??????????? (Sunday, "day of resurrection") and the word ?????? began to be used to describe the entire cycle.

In addition to the four seasons, there were four "mid-seasons": ???????? (late spring-early summer); ????? ???? (what Americans call Indian summer); ??????? (mid-September); and ??????? (beginning of winter).

And for the global warming believers, in ancient times "the beginning of winter" was in October.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.