It has been a while since we posted something about the etymology of the names we use to designate the days of the week in the multitude of languages that form our family of languages. Therefore, we will tell you how Sunday got its name.
The English word “Sunday” (which very obviously means “Sun Day” or “Day of the Sun”) has a slightly similar origin to the words used in Romance languages. It comes from Latin, but from the pre-Christian Latin “Dies solis” a term that is actually a translation from the Ancient Greek “Hemera heliou” (of which we could not find a proper Modern or Ancient Greek spelling) that means…the day of the Sun. Sunday comes to be through Old English Sunnandæg which in turns originates from the Western Germanic translation of “dies solis.” That is why German still uses Sonntag to call this day.
The words used in Romance languages originate in Latin as well, but in Christian Latin, or Church Latin. They come from “dies Dominicus” or “God’s Day,” and that is why we have domingo (Spanish and Portuguese), dimanche (French), domenica (Italian), and duminică (Romanian). The name was originally used to designate only Resurrection Day during paschal (Easter) celebrations. The Sabbath was still celebrated on Saturday (we have already discussed the etymology of this day of the week), but then practices of the church changed (perhaps to distinguish itself from Jewish practices), and Sunday became “the Lord’s day.”
You may be surprised to learn that Russian uses a similar word to the latter ones. Sunday is воскресенье in Russian which comes from воскрес (risen) which is part of the Russian Orthodox paschal greeting (“Христос воскрес!” or “Christ is risen!”). Thus, Sunday in Russian is, as with Romance languages, a product of Resurrection Day that became commonplace.
This is not the case with other Slavic languages that use words originated in the proto-Slavic “nedělja” that means “no work.” Thus, we have неделя (Bulgarian), неділя (Ukrainian), niedziela (Polish), nedjelja (Croatian), недеља (Serbian), nedeľa (Slovak) and neděle (Czech).
Chủ Nhật (which is, according to some online sources, a “corruption” of “Chúa Nhật” or “the Lord’s Day”) is the official name of Sunday in Vietnamese. This is obviously a Western Christian influence on a country that was until the XIX century almost entirely Buddhist. We would love to know the word used before the arrival of the Europeans.
The Chinese (星期日) and Japanese (日曜日) terms mean “day of the week,” just that. At some point their week began on Sunday, but when they started counting the beginning of the week on Mondays, Sundays lost their primacy. Mondays are now called “first day of the week” and Sundays, having lost their “first,” are simply “day of the week.”
And there you have it. Enjoy your day of the Sun, no-work day, Lord’s Day or simply day of the week!
Language, its origins, intricacies, its beauty and its potential, has always been a huge part of what we do at Ariel Media. And, when we say language, we refer to all the languages we work with. This post originally appeared on our Facebook page back when the social media platform was more content-friendly.