Name that moon

SkyCaramba weekly astronomy blog for the week ending January 14, 2012

Many cultures around the world have a different name for the full moon from month to month. Some almanacs list the full moon names. Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac lists them (in order from January to December) as Wolf, Snow, Worm, Pink, Flower, Strawberry, Buck, Corn, Harvest, Hunter’s, Frost or Beaver, and Long Light or Cold Moon.

Most of the names used by Blum’s come from an Algonquian tradition. It’s not hard to imagine how those Native Americans came up with the names. Of course, they didn’t know the months names that Europeans used until they met Europeans. But January is the time of year for long nights when wolves have more darkness to roam in. Probably there was often snow on the ground in February. In March the worms were beginning to come out. At September’s full moon, it was harvest time.

The English names for the full moons are Old, Wolf, Lenten, Egg, Milk, Flower, Hay, Grain, Fruit, Harvest, Hunter’s, and Oak. Perhaps the wolves in England were out in February rather than January. And the harvest is a little later, in October.

The moon is full 12 times a year in most years. But because the lunar month is slightly shorter than the average calendar month, every few years there will be 13 full moons. In the 20th Century, the “extra” full moon became known as a Blue Moon. Which one is the extra moon is subject to interpretation. For most people, for the month that has two full moons, the second one is called the Blue Moon. Some moon naming traditions, however, call the fourth full moon of a season the Blue Moon. And that’s not necessarily the second full moon of the month.

An interesting activity you could do with your friends would be to name the full moons yourself. If there’s a festival or some other thing that usually happens in your area during a certain month, that month’s full moon could be named after it. In northern Illinois, there’s a place where bald eagles gather during the winter to find fish in the unfrozen waters of a dam. The January full moon there could be called the Bald Eagle Moon. Maybe in San Juan, California, the March full moon could be called the Swallows Moon for the time when the birds return to the Capistrano mission.

Of course, you don’t have to follow anyone else’s tradition at all. You could name each moon for something you want to commemorate that month. Religious people try to remember various virtues, for example. They could have a Charity Moon and a Forgiveness Moon. Or maybe you can think of 12 or 13 favorite ice cream flavors. The Rocky Road Moon would give new meaning to the expression “flavor of the month”.

How about moons named after people you admire? Or name each full moon after a book you intend to finish before the next full moon? You could even name them after previous girlfriends or boyfriends, but the person you’re dating or married to now may be sensitive about it. Those are just suggestions. If you’re lucky, your moon naming tradition will catch on.