How Did February Get Its Name?

We use the days of the week and the days of the month to keep track of our appointments and important occasions like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Saturday has always been Saturday, and July has been July as long as any of us have been alive. For this reason, it seems like these things just are the way they are. We don't often think about why the days of the week are named what they are, or the reasons behind what we call the 12 months of the calendar year — we just accept it along with whatever holidays or seasons accompany any given month. 

Truth is, though, what we call the days and months has changed throughout history, and ultimately, these things were determined by none other than ourselves: people just like you and me. The names are also often related to religious rituals and other traditions from antiquity, as The Conversation reports, but essentially we still operate on the calendar year that the Romans used. There are many fascinating reasons humankind conjured the names of the months. One such example is the month of February, that odd-ball month near the beginning of the year.

To cleanse

Interestingly, there was no month of February at one point in the history of the Roman Empire. It was later added, along with January, and both were only 28 days long, according to Reader's Digest. Over time, days were added to January because the ancient Romans considered even numbers to be unlucky. February, however, remained only 28 days long, as it is today unless it's a leap year. Exactly why the Romans left February shorter than the rest of the months remains a mystery lost to time, but it might relate to the same reason the month of February came to be called what it is today. 

During the month of February, Romans engaged in rituals and traditions to honor their ancestor and other practices of purification and atonement. In the Ancient Roman language, "februa" meant "to cleanse," according to Almanac. There was also a Roman festival called Februalia for these same reasons. Because of this, the month was named Februarius, and finally February on the Gregorian calendar we know today.