Mythic Months: Why Is June Named After the Roman Goddess Juno?
It’s more than a little surprising to consider that historians believe the Gregorian calendar we follow today is likely based on an ancient Roman calendar — the Julian calendar — invented around 750 B.C. But, with this in mind, it makes perfect sense that the names of the months we still use today often have ancient Roman origins.
Many of the ways we keep track of time in the present have fascinating roots in the past. Throughout our Mythic Months series, we highlight the stories behind the various gods, rulers and even numbers of each month of the year and detail the ways they influence our recordkeeping practices. Here, we’re delving into the ancient origins of June, which was named after the fierce and protective Roman goddess Juno.
Juno’s Historical Origins
While Juno’s exact origins are unknown, some scholars believe that her legend arrived in Rome around the 5th century B.C. from the Etruscan town of Veii. What we do know for sure is that Juno is ancient — she’s among the three oldest Roman deities.
Sometimes known as “Juno Regina,” which means “Queen Juno,” she was the wife of Jupiter, king of the gods, and the preeminent goddess among ancient Romans. Juno, Jupiter and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, formed a sort of holy trinity and enjoyed their own major shrines in Capitoline Hill, Rome’s religious center.
Later on, when the ancient Greek and Roman cultures began to blend, the mythologies about the gods of the two civilizations began taking on so many of each other’s features that they often appear very similar through our eyes today. Juno is often equated with the ancient Greek goddess Hera, while Jupiter is considered the Roman Zeus, and Minerva closely resembles the Greeks’ Athena.
Juno’s Role in Roman Society
As the queen of the gods and patron goddess of Rome, Juno was considered the protector of the entire Roman state. But, she also had a special affinity for helping women, and was the patron goddess of the home, childbirth and marriage. Ironically, her own marriage was a bit of a stormy one, as Jupiter was well known for his extra-marital exploits.
Nonetheless, she was an important feminine figure of ancient Roman spirituality, a bit like the Virgin Mary among Catholics. Roman women would often seek her help in all aspects of their lives, including childbirth. Because Juno was the one to turn to for help in delivering new babies into the light of the world, she was sometimes called “Juno Lucina” because “Lucina” means “light.”
In short, Juno was a busy woman. She was a mother, wife, queen and midwife that the Roman empire also depended on as its great protector.
Juno’s Two Major Festivals
There were two major ancient Roman festivals dedicated to Juno, neither of which, ironically, took place in June. The first was called Matronalia and was celebrated annually on March 1. Matronalia drew large crowds of women to one of Juno’s many temples, where they offered the goddess sacrifices and asked her to bless their marriages. It was sort of like an ancient “Wives’ Day,” as the women were often presented with gifts from their husbands.
Juno’s second major feast day was called Juno Caprotina and was celebrated exclusively by women each year on July 7. There are several rival theories behind the holiday’s origins. One is that it’s the anniversary of the day that Romulus, Rome’s first emperor, was believed to have been charioted away to the gods. Another explanation involves a group of enslaved women who saved Rome from invasion by getting the rival army drunk before sending the Roman army a signal to attack.
Money Is Also Named After Juno
While Juno’s connection with the word “money” may not be as obvious as her ties to the month of June, it’s actually an interesting story. The story dates back to 390 B.C., when, as a member of Rome’s Holy Trinity, Juno had long enjoyed her own sanctuary on Capitoline Hill.
As it happens, geese were sacred to the goddess, so a flock of them was kept on the hill. One night, when the Gauls — a Celtic tribe that lived in the area that’s now France — attempted to sneak up on the unsuspecting Romans, the geese began honking. This noise alerted the Romans to danger and ended up saving the city.
In gratitude, a Roman General built Juno’s most famous temple on the spot and called it the Juno Moneta, as “moneta” meant “warning.” About a century later, a Roman mint was built adjacent to the temple, which is where we get the word “money.”
Why Was June Named After Juno?
The goddess Juno’s story is fascinating. But why is June named after her? The truth is that we don’t know for sure, but contextual details give us some pretty good clues. The fact that Juno was associated with light may be why she was named after the month when the sun reaches its highest annual point in the sky on the summer solstice.
Another possibility is that June is traditionally the first month of the annual fig harvest. Both figs and Juno were closely associated with fertility in ancient times, so the fig was also one of her symbols.
Last but not least, there’s the marriage connection. Given that Juno was also the goddess of marriage, it could be that tying the knot in June was as popular in ancient times as it is now.
June Symbols and Important Holidays
Juno can rest assured that her namesake month is still a favorite today. Aside from ushering in the official start of summer each year, June boasts several holidays in modern times, including Father’s Day, the anniversary of WW2’s D-Day and Juneteenth.
Just like all of our other months, June has been assigned its own special symbols over the years. If you were born in June or know someone who was, here’s a handy breakdown of June fun facts you’ll be excited to learn:
- Zodiac Signs: Those born from May 22 to June 21 were born under the zodiac sign Gemini, while those born between June 22 and July 22 were born under the sign of Cancer.
- Birthstone: June’s official birthstone is the pearl, while moonstone and alexandrite are popular alternatives.
- Flower: June’s official flower is the rose — a symbol of another important Roman deity: Venus, the goddess of love.
Although it may not be the time of year when you’re most likely to hear geese honking, June is a month of Juno’s light and love — and a great time to get out there and enjoy a fig or two.