Full Moon Names: Why They Exist and Why They Matter

the meaning of full moon names

In the past, our ancestors were keenly aware of the cycles of the earth and gave each full moon names to celebrate the season or the availability of food. Can honoring the moon help bring wellness and balance to modern life?

In the past, our ancestors were keenly aware of the cycles of the earth. They celebrated the seasons and observing the moon was a regular practice.

But as we moved into our modern lives, and away from earth-based work, observing and celebrating these cycles became less important.  We lit up our homes and our cities with artificial light, and the night sky faded away as a priority. All the conveniences of modern day made the passing of seasons have little importance to our day to day life.

Despite loving nature, and thinking that tuned into the rhythms of the earth, I hadn’t actually thought very much about the moon. At any given time, I couldn’t tell you what phase it was in or when the next full moon was without looking at a calendar.

I wanted to know more about the moon, the ways of life that celebrated it, and how I could deepen my own connection with the moon.

full moon seen through a clearing in clouds

Photo from Unsplash | Ganapathy Kumar

Why there are full moon names for each month

We’ve all likely heard the fall moon called the “harvest moon”, but did you know that there are names for the other full moons, as well?

For millennia, the moon was used to mark time and to break the seasons down into smaller cycles.  The full moons were used as a calendar to set schedules for hunting, planting, harvesting and to guide the ways of life. Cultures all over the world over gave these full moons names.

Many full moon names are hard to find, as most are part of oral traditions from agrarian or nomadic people. The names reflected the behavior of the plants, animals, or weather during that moon cycle, but each culture had slightly different names that related to what they experienced in their area.

Many of the full moon names that are commonly found and used today have Native American, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic roots.

large orange full moon rises over bushes

Photo from Unsplash | Noah Silliman

Moon Cycles & Calendar Basics

The cycle from new moon to new moon is called lunation. Every month Earth’s moon goes through its phases, waning and waxing from new moon to full moon and back again. A lunation is the period of time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth.

The moon does not follow the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar that we use today.  The moon’s cycle goes through it’s lunation in a range of 29-30 days. The full moon occurs, on average, ever 29.5 days as the moon moves to the side of Earth directly opposite the sun.

It is near impossible to sync the lunar calendar to our calendar. There are more than 12 lunations, but less than 13.

Many cultures used a lunar calendar that had 13 moons, one which was used ever 3 years or so (like leap year- which, by the way, is my birthday. I’d love a pink pony). Some cultures, and what has been adopted by the Old Farmer’s Almanac and is most used today, used 12 moon names. When a month had more than one full moon, it is called a blue moon. Some cultures would only use 12 moon names, and would repeat one of them, sharing the name of the previous cycle.

The new moon also doesn’t fall on the first of the month, making the start of a new lunation sometimes in the middle of a month or at the very end. I love the concept used in the ancient Mediterranean: the first sighting of the new crescent moon would be called out to the community, and a new month would begin. The word calendar actually comes from latin verb calare, to call out.

full moon rises over snowy mountains

Photo from Unsplash | Benjamin Child

How Observing the Moon Can Help Our Wellbeing

For a long time, the moon had huge significance in the lives of humans. Yet other than the occasional ‘big event’ or posting a picture on Instagram, it seems our modern culture has disregarded the importance of the moon.

Not only were the full moons used to mark time, but it has been said that the phases of the moon can affect our sleep, energy and other aspects of our wellbeing (but, that’s a post for another day.) 

I think the relationship we used to have with the moon should not be forgotten. Very few of us can use the moon as a calendar, to schedule daily life. Nor will we use the night sky to plan and guide our activities for that month.

person looks up at the night sky and the milky way

Photo from Unsplash | Greg Rakozy

Many of us can no longer see the stars and the constellations in our night sky because of light pollution, but everyone can still see the moon. And, we can still observe the cycles of the moon. We can learn how to tell what phase she is in and notice her subtle changes.

We can celebrate the foodstuff or events the full moon names were based on. Imagine eating food that is not only local, aligned with the seasons but also the moon! Such foods would be nourishing, not only to our body but also the soul!

By re-connecting with the moon, we can reconnect with the earth. We are not apart from nature, but a part of it. And that, I believe is essential to all our wellbeing.

I’m going to be starting a series exploring each of the moon names and how we can use these traditions in our modern lives. I’m excited to learn more!

large full moon surrounded by misty clouds

Full Moon Names of 2018

Jan 1: Wolf Moon, Moon after Yule

Jan 31: Blue Moon / Lenten Moon, Hunger Moon

March 1: Worm Moon, Crow Moon

March 31: Blue Moon/ Sugar Moon, Sap Moon

April 29: Pink Moon, Egg Moon

May 29: Flower Moon, Milk Moon

June 28: Strawberry Moon, Mead Moon

July 27: Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, Wort Moon

August 26: Sturgeon Moon, Corn Moon

Sept 24: Harvest Moon

Oct. 24: Hunter’s Moon, Blood Moon

November 23:  Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon, Snow Moon

December 22: Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon, Moon Before Yule

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  • Reply
    January 4, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Loved this post! I never understood all of this about the moon’s cycles. I recently began paying attention to the moon, and it makes me feel so much more connected to our earth below and cosmos above!

    • Reply
      Melissa Keyser
      January 8, 2018 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks, Susan! The more I learn and the more I pay attention, the more enthralled I become!

  • Reply
    shelley bushway
    January 6, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Wonderful article, can’t wait to hear what other info you discover about our moon.

    • Reply
      Melissa Keyser
      January 8, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      Thanks, Mom! Next up is Hunger Moon and a recipe that uses the last bit in the (well, for me, imaginary) root cellar.

  • Reply
    January 6, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    This is really interesting; if we are thinking of practices or connections to our ancestral ways of doing things this is something that is actually still relatively easy to do (I can’t build a root cellar in my rented basement suite, but I can look up at the night sky) and fairly universal! I guess I was born right before the Hunter’s moon. I’m not sure what that might mean for me, but that’s really interesting to know!

    • Reply
      Melissa Keyser
      January 8, 2018 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks for reading, Kelsey! I think lots of people might feel “connection” wouldn’t work for them because of where they are at, but you’re right- anyone can look up at the sky! I know birth moons have a lot to do with astrology, but I don’t know much about it.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2018 at 8:00 am

    Thank you for the post Melissa! The moon and her cycles seem to be a recurring theme in my life right now, and I’m excited for your series about it.

    • Reply
      Melissa Keyser
      January 8, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Emily! I agree, there seems to be a lot of moon things coming my way, too!

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