A centuries-old mystery has crossed my path again …
I mentioned in a recent article that there was a dispute in many academic quarters regarding the actual Viking deity being honored by the name, ‘Friday.’ The cold, hard fact is that unless someone unearths a runic stone that confirms the issue — and that’s not likely — only a preponderance of circumstantial evidence is going to carry the day in any such debate.
So, while others while away their time contemplating world peace, I’ve returned to the search for Friday’s inspiration.
If you’ll recall, four of the seven days of the week are named after Norse gods:
– Tuesday is for Tyr, the god of truth and war,
– Wednesday is for Odin, the Allfather of Viking gods,
– Thursday is for Thor, the god of thunder,
– Friday, however is cloaked in ambiguity.
I’d always heard the day’s name-origin came from Frigg, Odin’s elder wife — he had more than one — and this is supported by the most scholarly of English references, such as the Oxford dictionary. Others say it was for either Frey or Freja, who were brother and sister in the Vanir clan. Frey was the god of fertility, so it was considered essential to keep him happy; Freja was the goddess of love and beauty, so it didn’t hurt to keep on her good side, either.
Frigg’s duties were to be the goddess of the sky. It was a subtle job, but someone had to do it.
Turning to cyberspace for resolution, I happened on an excellent guide in Norse matters, The Viking Answer Lady. She is so meticulous in her material that I felt the possibility of her bringing light to the issue was quite good. So, I contacted her. To say she did her research is an understatement. Here’s her reply to me:
“Since Western Europe all originally derived from Indo-European tribes, we find that there were a lot of correspondences between the various branches — not exact, one-for-one identity, but concepts are clearly related. So it’s no real surprise to find that the naming and symbolism of the days of the week, and the number of days in a week, might be pretty much the same in all the descendants of the Indo-Europeans.
“You can see the day-name correspondences in other languages that descend from Indo-European:
“Ancient Greek has: hemera selenes (moon day), hemera Areos (Ares’ day), hemera Hermu (Hermes’ day), hemera Dios (Zeus’ day), hemera Aphrodites (Aphrodite’s day), hemera Khronu (Chronos’ day), hemera heliou (sun day)
“Latin: Lunae dies (Moon-day, Monday), Martis dies (Mars-Day, Tuesday), Mercurii dies (Mercury’s day, Wednesday), Jovis dies (Jove’s day, Thursday), Veneris dies (Venus’ day, Friday), Saturni dies (Saturn’s day, Saturday) or alternatively Christian Sabbatum or Sabbati dies (Sabbath day), Solis dies (Sunday)or alternatively Christian Dominicus dies (Lord’s day)
“Unsurprisingly, the Romance languages clearly derive their day names from Latin, except for Portugese, which numbers the days:
“Italian: lunedi, martedi, mercoledi, giovedi, venerdi, sabato, domenica
“Spanish: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo
“French: lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche
“Romanian: luni, marti, miercuri, joi, vineri, sîmbata, duminica
“Portugese: Segunda-Feira (2nd day, Monday); Terça-Feira (3rd day, Tuesday); Quarta-Feira (4th day, Wednesday); Quinta-Feira (5th day, Thursday); Sexta-Feira (6th day, Friday); Sábado (Sabbath, Saturday); Domingo (Lord’s Day, Sunday)
“The Celtic languages have taken and preserved the Latin names of the days, and also borrowed heavily from Christian concepts:
“Welsh: Dydd Llun (moon/Luna day), Dydd Mawrth (Mars’ day), Dydd Mercher (Mercury’s day), Dydd Iau (Jove’s day), Dydd Gwener (Venus’s day), Dydd Sadwrn (Saturn’s day), Dydd Sul (sun day)
“Gaelic: Di-luain (moon day); Di-máirt (Mars’s day); Di-ciaduinn or Di-ciadaoin (day of the first fast of the week – Friday being the second fast); Diardaoin (the day between the two fasts of Wednesday and Friday); Di-haoine or Dia-aoine (day of the fast) Di-sathuirn (Saturn day); Di-dómhnuich (Lord’s day)
“Irish: Dé Luan (moon/Luna day); Dé Mairt (Mars’ day); Dé Céadaoin (day of the first fast of the week); Déardaoin; Dé h-Aoine (the day between the two fasts of Wednesday and Friday); Dé Sathairn (Saturn’s day); Dé Domhnaigh (Lord’s day)
“The Germanic languages, however, are also related. Ares/Mars was equated with Týr as a warrior god. Zeus/Jupiter was equated with Thórr as the god who hurled lightnings. Mercury was equated with Óðinn, since both had a role as psychompomps, the one who leads the dead to their afterlife. Aphrodite/Venus was equated with Frigga and Freyja.
“German: Montag (moon day), Dienstag (Týr’s day), Mittwoch (Mid-week), Donnerstag (Donner’s/Thórr’s day), Freitag (Freyja/Frigga’s day), Samstag (derived ultimately from Latin Sabbatum), Sonntag (sun day)
“Dutch: maandag (moon day), dinsdag, woensdag (Woden’s/Óðinn’s day), donderda (Donner’s/Thórr’s day), vrijdag (Freyja/Frigga’s day), zaterdag (Saturn day), zondag (sun day)
“Norwegian and Danish: mandag (moon day), tirsdag (Týr’s day), onsdag (Óðinn’s day), torsdag (Thórr’s day), fredag (Freyja’s/Frigga’s day), lørdag (washing day), søndag (sun day)
“Swedish: måndag (moon day), tisdag (Týr’s day), onsdag (Óðinn’s day), torsdag (Thrr’s day), fredag (Freyja/Frigga’s day), lördag (wash day), söndag (sun day)
“Old English: mondæg or monandæg (moon day); tiwesdæg (Tiw’s day, Týr’s day); wodnesdæg (Wotan’s/Óðinn’s day); thunresdæg (Thórr’s day); frigedæg (Frigga’s/Freya’s day); sæterdæg or sæternesdæg (Saturn’s day); sunnandæg (sun day)
“Middle English: monday, moneday, or monenday (moon day); tiwesday or tewesday (Tiw’s day, Týr’s day); wodnesday, wednesday, or wednesdai (Wotan’s/Óðinn’s day); thursday or thuresday (Thórr’s day); fridai (Frigga’s/Freya’s day); saterday (Saturn’s day); soneday, sonenday, sunday, sunnenday (sun day)
“North Frisian: monnendei (moon-day); Tirsdei (Týr’s-day); Winsdei (Wotan’s/Óðinn’s day); Türsdei (Thórr’s day); Fridei (Frigga’s/Freyja’s day); sennin (sun-evening); sennedei (sun day)
“Etymologically, it’s impossible to tell for certain whether the ‘Friday’ words derive from Frigga or Freyja (at least so I am told, I am not a philologist or linguistics expert). We can tell by the cognates that the name is from a goddess equated with Venus and Aphrodite.
“We get into further problems in that ‘Freyja’ is derived from roots meaning simply ‘lady’ while ‘Frigga’ comes from roots related to ‘beloved.’ There have been several scholars who insist that Frigga and Freyja are just different titles for the same goddess.
“None the less, undoubtedly ‘Friday’ comes from the name of one of these two goddeses, and not from the name of the god Freyr.”
Now, that’s the sort of studied thoroughness that can achieve Master’s degrees. It’s a preponderance of evidence that can carry the day in a court of law. Even though she only eliminated one of the three contenders to the title of Friday’s Namesake, the Viking Answer Lady has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide me with the information I requested.
I’m sure glad I didn’t tell her I was just trying to win a bar bet.