This might be a silly question, but what is the official name of that bright ball in the sky? You know, that thing we call the Moon? You might be surprised to know that the official name of the Moon is… the Moon. And this becomes all the more confusing when there are other moons orbiting other planets, and even asteroids.
But interestingly enough, the Moon has been given its fair share of special monikers, many of which are still used today. For example, a Full Moon occurs twelve times a year, and each one has a distinct name based on the season and the special significance this Moon has. Here is a list of all twelve Full Moon names and why they were bestowed upon Earth’s only satellite.
To be sure, there’s a different between THE Moon, and a moon. Here’s how you can tell the difference. When you’re referring to a smaller object orbiting a planet, that’s a moon – with a lowercase “m” at the front. When you’re talking about the moon going around the Earth, you refer to it as the Moon – with an uppercase “M”.
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For those who are not familiar, a “full moon” takes place when the Moon is on opposite sides of the Earth from the Sun, and we see it fully illuminated. A “new moon” occurs in the opposite situation, when the Moon is on the same side of the Earth as the Sun, and we see it completely in shadow.
A “blue moon”, meanwhile, occurs when there are two full moons in the same month. This happens rarely because the Moon takes about 29 days to complete the full cycle from full moon to new moon and then back to full moon. Blue moons occur about once every 2.72 years on average, hence the term “once in a blue moon”, which is used to refer to things that only happen occasionally.
But as for the names for the twelve full Moons, those are particular to the time of the year in which they occur, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The names were traditionally used by the Native Americans, who assigned the names based on its appearance in the night sky, the cycles of the year (i.e. weather patterns), or seasonal activities (i.e. hunting, harvesting, fishing or planting).
Many of these names were gradually adopted by settlers in Canada and the United States and became part of the national culture and folklore. However, others were indigenous to Europe, and were incorporated along with Native names. By 1955, these names began to be listed in The Farmer’s Almanac, which continues to this day.
They are, in order of appearance during the year:
- Wolf’s Moon – January (aka. “Old Moon”)
- Snow Moon – February (aka. “Hunger Moon”)
- Worm Moon – March (aka. “Crow Moon”, “Sap Moon”, “Lenten Moon”)
- Pink Moon – April (aka. “Seed Moon”, “Sprouting Grass Moon”, “Egg Moon”, “Fish Moon”)
- Flower Moon – May (aka. “Seed Moon”, “Corn Planting Moon”)
- Strawberry Moon – June (aka. “Mead Moon”, “Rose Moon”, “Thunder Moon”)
- Buck Moon – July (aka. “Hay Moon”, “Thunder Moon”)
- Sturgeon Moon – August (aka. “Corn Moon”, “Red Moon”, “Green Corn Moon”, “Grain Moon”)
- Harvest Moon – September (aka. “Full Corn Moon”)
- Hunter’s Moon – October (aka. “Blood Moon”/”Sanguine Moon”)
- Beaver Moon – November (aka. “Frosty Moon”)
- Cold Moon – December (aka. “Oak Moon”, “Long Nights Moon”)
As you can see from the names listed, there was no shortage to the nicknames that have been historically assigned to annual full Moons. But they all have one thing in common: they are based on the kinds of patterns and behaviors that were expected during that time of year. During the lean months of the winter (aka. February), snow and hunger were the typical associations for First Nation people and early settlers.
By March, when the thaw began to set in, one could expect worms to begin popping out of the soil. And for Christian settlers in North America and Europe, the month of March is when Lent occurs, hence the addition of that name to the mix. And of course, with temperature beginning to drop and the nights getting longer in December, “cold” and “long nights” seemed like an appropriate name.
By far, the most popular and enduring of these names are the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon. Traditionally, these names refer to the full moons occurring during late summer and autumn. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox (22nd or 23rd of September), and accords with the fall harvest.
In addition to having roots in Native American and European folklore, the Harvest moon is celebrated in many different parts of the world, with festivals taking place in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. The Hunter’s Moon, meanwhile, is the one immediately following it.
Typically, this moon appears in October, except once every four years when it doesn’t appear until November. The name dates back to the First Nations of North America and is so-called because it was during the month of October, when the deer had fattened themselves up over the course of the summer, that hunters tracked and killed prey by autumn moonlight, stockpiling food for the coming winter.
So while our Moon may seem a but uninspired when it comes to its name, remember that it comes with its fair share of monikers and unofficial names as well. And this is just one of many indications of how central the Moon has been to the traditions and folklore of countless cultures. Today, the Moon remains a symbol of aspiration and hope. When people look up at it, they cannot help but feel moved and inspired.
When the words “shoot for the Moon” are uttered, everyone knows that they mean to go above and beyond. And on July 20th, 1969, when human beings first setting foot on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, humanity came together to rejoice. Someday, human beings may live there, at which point “Lunas” or “Loonies” will become a real thing. Hopefully, they’ll be less crazy than the name implies!
Astronomy cast has an interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon, titled: Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?