In other Germanic languages, such as English, the fourth day of the week from Sunday is known as Wednesday after the Germanic/Norse god Woden/Oden. Yet, in German itself (and in Yiddish) that day is known as Mittwoch (lit. Mid-week).

Why does the German language specifically drop the ode to this norse god, yet maintain tributes to Norse and Roman gods in the other days of the week?


It was the church that replaced Wodanstag by Mittwoch: Wikipedia Wochentag.

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    Why was the church only successful for Wednesday and Saturday and not other days? – Reb Chaim HaQoton Sep 12 '15 at 17:41
  • @RebChaimHaQoton: I already addressed this in my full answer, but here is the relevant part again: Mittwoch was shorter and more descriptive than the earlier word. Sonnabend was more descriptive and not longer than the earlier word. Currently it is being superseded by Samstag, which though less descriptive is shorter. It has nothing to do with the gods themselves, which are totally obscure nowadays. – user2183 Sep 13 '15 at 13:47

Why do you think it should be named after a nordic god? Only two of the eight German names come from germanic gods (There are not seven but eight names of days because Saturday has two German names: »Samstag« and »Sonnabend«)

  • »Montag« is named after the moon (»Mond-Tag«). This name was created because the latin name of this day also refers to the moon or the roman mood-god Luna (eng. monday = ger. Montag = lat. dies lunae)
  • »Dienstag« has germanic roots, but it is not named after a god. It is the day of the Thing (»Thing-Tag« or »Ding-Tag«). The old word »Thing« (spoken as if it was a German word: »ting«) is the etymologic root for the modern words »thing« (in English) and »Ding« (in German), but »Thing« had a different meaning in ancient times: »Das Thing« (Icelandic: »þing«; Danish, Swedish and Norwegian: »ting«) was the governing assembly in germanic cultures. (See »Thing« in Wikipedia)
  • »Mittwoch« is the day in the middle of the week, if you see the sunday as first day of the week, as it was usual in jewish and christ culture. This name was chosen purposeful to avoid naming this day after non-christian gods.
  • »Donnerstag« is one of the two days that are named after a germanic god: Donnerstag is »Donar-Tag«, and »Donar« is a nordic god, who is better known under his other name: Thor. Donar aka Thor was the highest god in nordic mythology, and the corresponding day in the ancient roman week was »Dies Iovis« which means: »Jupiters day«. And when the old Germans introduced the seven-day-week into their culture between the 3rd and 5th century, they named the day of the highest god after their own highest god.
  • »Freitag« is the second day that is named after a germanic god: Freitag = »Freya-Tag«. In the roman calendar this day was »Dies Veneris«, named after Venus, the goddess of love. Her Germanic counterpart is Freya. (There is another germanic goddess that is discussed as the origin of »Freitag«: Frija aka Frigg, but she had another role in germanic mythology: She was the goddess of marriage and motherhood)
  • »Samstag«: Middle High German: »samztag«, »sameztag« and »sambaztag«. In medieval times there was the words »sambaton« and »sabbaton« in use for this day. So »Samstag« has developed from the hebrew »שבת« (»Šabbat«).
  • »Sonnabend« is an alternate name for »Samstag«. »Sonnabend« is used only in middle and northern parts of Germany. Initially »Sonnabend« was the evening before Sunday (Sonnabend = Sonntags-Vorabend = Abend vor dem Sonntag), but soon was used for the whole day. (There is another »Abend« in German language that lasts 24 hours: »Der Heilige Abend« is the name of the holiday on 24th of December.)
  • »Sonntag«: This day got his name with the same mechanism as »Montag«: In the ancient roman calendar this day was »Dies Solis«, which means: »Day of the sun«. In German this is »Sonnen-Tag«.
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    "Why do you think it should be named after a nordic god?" - Because it is Wednesday in English and Woensday in Dutch, both named after Wotan, and because there are 5 other days were all three languages refer to the same Norse or Roman gods (Saturday being the other exception). – Matthias Sep 13 '15 at 13:38

Nobody actually thinks of heathen gods any more when talking about weekdays, and even at a time when these were a bit more recognisable, practical concerns must have been important.

Mittwoch is an immensely practical term. It is both descriptive and shorter than the alternative. If anyone had actually worshipped Wodan on Wednesdays, things might have turned out differently, but if German Wikipedia (see Veredomon's helpful answer) is correct, the connection always was purely conventional in Germanic languages since it was the translation of a Latin convention that came from Babylonian.

Something similar is happening with Saturday in German right now. This day is still called Zaterdag in Dutch, but the connection to Saturn has long been completely lost in German. In the North it is quite logically called Sonnabend = Sun[day's]eve. In the South it is called Samstag, a term derived from sambaton, a Greek variant of sabbaton (obviously from Shabbat and related to English sabbath). Samstag is slowly winning over Sonnabend (i.e. the border is moving northward). Apparently, being one syllable shorter is more important than being descriptive. I know it is to me, but then I grew up in the South anyway... (Samstag is not descriptive because the derivation from Shabbat is obscure. By the way, a perfectly analogous phenomenon is Southern Orange replacing Northern Apfelsine.)

I believe Sabbat never had a chance to become the standard word for Saturday because in German (unlike Yiddish, of course) it's ambiguous. It can stand for Shabbat and imply Jewish observances, or it can stand for Sunday and imply Christian observances. (References to Shabbat in everyday German will normally be understood to have a Jewish context. References in a Christian setting or related to the Christian version of the Hebrew Bible are understood as Sunday.)

I believe the shift of Christian observances from Saturday to Sunday happened because Christianity is really a somewhat syncretic religion that evolved in a period of close contact between the Jewish sect founded by Jesus (one of many messiahs in his time) and the Mithras cult, an originally Babylonian religion immensely popular among Roman soldiers for some time. There are remains of Mithras temples in Germany.

Digression: Mithras was a personification of the sun. He held a Last Supper with twelve of his disciples before dying and later rising from the dead (as the sun always does). The Mithras cult baptised by submerging into water and sprinkling with bull's blood. Quite logically, the Mithras cult held its weakly celebrations on Sunday. It also had four yearly celebrations, two of which are related to Christmas and Easter. Appropriately for a soldiers' religion, the Mithras cult was only open to men, and Mithras sacrificed a bull rather than himself.

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