It is a curious thing that…
the true origin of April’s name remains uncertain. Here are some theories:
- April could be derived from Aphrilis, named for Aphrodite, the Greek version of the goddess the Romans called Venus.
- April could be derived from aperire, Latin for ‘to open’.
- April could be derived from the same root that gives us ‘après’: because April is the month that follows March.
The first two suggestions could be connected: the female is often symbolised as being ‘open’; think of Venus, or Aphrodite, rising from the sea, in an opening shell, as flowers open in springtime.
The ‘aperire/to open’ theory is popular, and quite old: Ovid, in his Fasti, Book IV, comments on it as he speaks directly to Venus.
Venus, there are some
Who’d grudge you your month, and snatch it away.
They say Spring was named from the open (apertum) season,
Because Spring opens (aperit) everything and the sharp
Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed,
Though kind Venus sets her hand there and claims it.
She rules the whole world too, and truly deserves to:
While Ovid’s translator, A.S. Kline, observes under his notes on Venus, that:
‘April is her month which name Ovid derives from άφρός (aphros), sea-foam, since Venus-Aphrodite rose from the sea’.
Perhaps Ovid didn’t know for sure. At the time he was writing, mensis Aprilis had long been known as the name of the fourth month (and before that the second month, when by custom the beginning of the year was March).
As a Roman exile trying to put himself back into favour, perhaps Ovid wanted to please Venus by defending her honour and her rights. Perhaps he did not want to take any chances.
Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, is another name for Venus/Aphrodite.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom comes many good things attributed to the powerful female deities that went before her, has been given the same name since at least medieval times. This led me to wonder whether Mary and my own name, Maria, might be, after all, as closely linked to the sea as I would like them to be. But that’s another rabbit-hole.
Back to the origins of the name ‘April’. Mensis Aprilis: the month of April. For the origins of the name, in whom can you trust?
The British Museum tweeted, in April 2018:
#April takes its name from the Latin word aperire, meaning ‘to open’ – just like flowers do in spring! The Romans called the month Aprilis.
The BM did not respond to a request via twitter for a source for this ‘fact’, which also appeared in their tumblr post in 2015:
April is named after the Latin word aperire, meaning ‘to open’ (i.e. spring).
How I would like to know how they know what they think they know. Is there some definitive source? Or is this just an assertion sweeping in on a tide of ‘knowledge’ Ovid brought into question all those centuries ago? Don’t tweets matter?
The Encyclopedia Britannica will only go as far as to say that the name
probably derives from the Latin aperire (“to open”), a possible reference to plant buds opening at this time of year in Rome.
What a difference a ‘probably’ makes, holding as it does a sense of allowance to be made for other possibilities.
A third theory is that the name derives from the same root that gives us ‘après’ in French meaning ‘after’. The logic goes that the month of Mars (March) was the first in the calendar and that the month of Venus/Aphrodite (April) was ‘nearby’. The word is supposed to be derived from Vulgar Latin ‘ad-pressum’ or, in English, to press.
To join the three theories together: what if the name for Aphrodite/Venus was not only synonymous with being ‘open’ but also for being put into the position of being the ‘follower ’. Typical patriarchal ploy.
Usage seems to trump any theory.
If you want to know more – for instance, is the word ‘April’ really of Etruscan rather than Roman origin? Because ‘When a Latin word defies all attempts at explaining its origin, it is customary to resort to Etruscan’. So says Anatoly Liberman. You can read more in his post for the Oxford University Press.
Whatever the truth of it, it still surprises me to realise how little I knew about the origins of the name of the beautiful month of April.
Which theory do you prefer?
Do you have any other theories of your own?
Please add your comments below.
***All photographs are the property of Maria Donovan.