The full moon has always been revered throughout the span of human history; for millennia an opalescent orb of muted radiance beckons mankind to adventure into the night realm in which they rarely travel. The Romans had a name for these people: Lunatics. Likewise, over the spectrum of human history, people from all cultures and corners of the globe have in turn named the moon.
Full moon names in North America
The most well known group of people who named moons are Native Americans, who kept no set calendars, but rather would mark the passing of time based off of a lunar calendar system. Each full moon was named as a descriptive depiction of the time of year the moon would emerge. Colonists who interacted with the American Indians adopted and adapted full moon names into their lexicon. Soon Farmer’s Almanacs began publishing the names of Indian moons. Today a list of 12 moons transposed to correspond with the months of the Gregorian calendar have been widely accepted as the standard full moon names. Although most moon name meaning are self explanatory, each has interesting lore associated with it.
The following list has been adapted from The 2014 Farmer’s Almanac:
- January – Wolf Moon – According to legend, the cold month of January would drive wolf packs to the outskirts of populated villages scavenging for food. Wolf Moon is the month people would stay inside, listening to the wolves and winds howling outside.
- February – Snow Moon – Traditionally one of the heaviest snow months of the year, February is appropriately known as the snow moon
- March – Worm Moon – March is the month when the first inklings of spring begin to appear. This moon name honors the earthworms that begin to appear and beckon the first robins of spring.
- April – Pink Moon – The Pink moon is attributed to the abundance of herb moss pink (wild phlox) that burgeon in April throughout the east coast of North America.
- May – Flower Moon – True to the common turn of phrase, “April’s showers bring May’s flowers”, the May moon is colloquially known as the Flower Moon.
- June – Strawberry Moon – June is known as the Strawberry Moon because it is the month when succulent fruits fully ripen and must be picked. Also, the moon emanates a rosy strawberry pink glow this month, which could be a possible origin of the moon name.
- July – Buck Moon – In late winter each year, the antlers of a buck harden and are shed. The Buck Moon of July allegedly signifies the month of the year when buck’s antlers begin to regrow and reveal themselves as they push through the deer’s forehead.
- August – Sturgeon Moon – The Sturgeon Moon refers to the abundance of the fish contained in the Great Lakes and waterways of America. Every August the water would teem with the fish allowing for fruitful fishing expeditions.
- September – Corn Moon** – September is the time of year when stalks of corn (or as the Indian’s called it: maize) would fully ripen. The September moon is often mistakenly portrayed as Harvest Moon by some sources, however that is a misnomer.
- October – Hunter’s Moon** – Once the harvest has been taken in, the last preparations for the upcoming winter months are hunting, curing, and storing meat for sustenance during the harsh winter months.
- November – Beaver Moon – Late fall is the time of year the trapper begins setting snares for the beaver; he must acquire enough fur to combat the cold depths of winter before the freeze sets in.
- December – Cold Moon – Not surprisingly, the coldest, darkest nights of the year get named for being such. Cold moon is also known as Long Nights Moon, in reference to the winter solstice.
Other moons of note
The Harvest Moon** – Many lists either name September or October Moon (or both) as the Harvest Moon. This is inaccurate; the Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox. It is known as the Harvest Moon because the crops in the field are ready for harvest, and the full moon’s illumination allows reaping to continue late into the night. Since the equinox is not a set date, the Harvest moon happens in September for two years, and then October every third year. This year the Harvest Moon occurs in September.
The Blue Moon – A lunar month is technically 29.5 days long, but effectively can only be 29 days in length. Due to this imprecision, every so often an extra moon must be inserted into the regular rotation of moons in order to keep the timing; The same concept is used in Leap Year in our modern Gregorian calendar. The original Blue Moon occurred when a season had four moons in it instead of three. In this scenario, the first two moons observed kept their usual names, the third moon of a season was called the Blue Moon, and the fourth moon returned the calendar to it’s normal nomenclature. However, popular culture has misinterpreted the concept of a Blue Moon as any time there is a second full moon within a single calendar month.
Common full moon name misconceptions
Although many websites popularly attribute the above list to Algonquin tribes of the Northeast and Great Lakes region, this “common knowledge” should be classified as erroneous American folklore. Most lists offer no verifiable sources supporting their claims. However, an Indian moon database comprised of various Native American tribes has been compiled by Western Washington University.
A close examination of the Algonquin lunar calendar will reveal no similarities between their full moon names and the above list; the Algonquin calendar has only 11 moons, the first of which is named, “sun has not strength to thaw”. If one scours the database searching for similarities between any Indian tribe’s full moon names and the folk list above, then only sparing sporadic evidence can link Native Americans to the current full moon list. For example, the closest moon to January’s Wolf Moon can be found in the moon corresponding with December (roughly) of the Cheyenne peoples’ calendar, “when the wolves run together”.
The lunar calendars of Native Americans vary as greatly as their cultures do. Some tribes observe 12 moon calendars, roughly aligning moons with our concept of months, others have 13 moon calendars. However, not all indigenous people’s kept monthly calendars, but rather used the concept of a moon to describe an entire season. The Apache tribe kept track of five moons throughout the year, accounting seasons from January through October. It is common to find American Indians with between five and seven moons per year, such as the Omaha, Pueblo, and Winnebago tribes.
Though not a misconception, it is something to remember. Due to Earth’s tilted axis, the seasons experienced in the Northern Hemisphere do not correspond with those of the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore when observing full moon names South of the equator, remember to adjust your calendar accordingly, before you start to call a midsummer moon Full Snow Moon.