July 20th is National Moon Day — the first time man walked on the moon in 1969. The moon has been with us since the earliest of humans existed, which means we’ve had a lot of time to suss it out through both folklore and science. In Ancient Rome the full moon was affiliated with strange occurrences and lunatic behavior, as evident in the naming of their moon goddess, Luna. More recently, scientists have said that the moon is slowly drifting away from Earth, like Tom Hank’s handprinted volleyball in Castaway (I’m sooorrrry, Wilson!).
Full moons occur every 29 days or so, and one of my favourite details are the different names that ancient cultures have associated with these moons. These names, varying across the world, depict seasonal changes and evoke a sense of mystery and lore.
The following list are the full moon names that are synonymous with parts of North America, designated by the Indigenous peoples who first lived there.
January: Wolf Moon
Named after the wolf packs howling in hunger, the Wolf Moon symbolizes the bitter winter and its scarcity of food. Other names include Ice Moon and Old Moon.
February: Snow Moon
Inspired by mid-winter’s snowy conditions, the Snow Moon is named after the white blanket that covers much of North America at this time. The February full moon is also known as Storm Moon or Hunger Moon.
March: Worm Moon
As the last full moon of winter, the Worm Moon is indicative of thawing earth and the emergence of worms. Other names denote eager glimpses of spring — like the Sap, Crow, or Crust Moon — or the ominous end of the season such as Death Moon.
April: Pink Moon
The early blooming flowers of Spring with their pop of colour give this full moon its name. The Pink Moon can also be known as Grass Moon, Egg Moon, and Fish Moon.
May: Flower Moon
Another reference to Spring’s floral bounty, the Flower Moon is named after the blossoms that bloom during this month. May’s full moon is also called Milk Moon or Corn Planting Moon.
June: Strawberry Moon
The Strawberry Moon is dubbed after the sweet red berries that come into season this time of year in North America. Across the ocean in Europe, this full moon is also recognized as Rose Moon. Elsewhere, the name Hot Moon denotes the beginning of summer’s heat.
July: Buck Moon
July’s full moon is named after the male deer as their antlers, shed once a year, start to grow back during this month. This full moon is sometimes also called Thunder Moon, due to the heated summer storms seen this time of year.
August: Sturgeon Moon
Nearing the end of summer, the full moon for August is named after the fish that populates waters this time of season. It’s also known as Red Moon for the ruddy hue of summer haze.
September: Harvest Moon
Perhaps the most commonly known name, the Harvest Moon refers to the gathering of crops during the autumn equinox. In particular, this full moon’s early rise and bright glow would allow farmers to continue with their harvest late into the night.
October: Hunter’s Moon
October earns its name as the preferred month to start hunting summer-fattened deer and other animals. Similar to the Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon hangs unusually long and bright in the sky, allowing hunters to continue their chase into the night. This full moon is also known as Travel Moon or Dying Grass Moon.
November: Beaver Moon
Some folklore states that the Beaver Moon was named after the setting of beaver traps prior to the winter season. Others say the name was inspired by the busying of beavers as they built their winter dams. Either way, both anticipate the coming cold season, as does this full moon’s other name: Frost Moon.
December: Cold Moon
As wintertime’s first full moon, the Cold Moon epitomizes the icy temperatures of the season ahead. Other names include Oak Moon and Long Night Moon.
There is, sometimes, a thirteenth moon. About every two and a half years, there are two full moons in a single month. This second showing is known as a Blue Moon. The next appearance of the Blue Moon will be one for the ages — on Halloween in 2020.
Although not of this world, the moon has always been something with which humans have interacted. If you’re interested in connecting further with the moon you can always play around with moon astrology. Start with Moon Giant’s birthday calculator to see what phase the moon was in the day you were born, or explore Danielle Noel’s beautiful moonchild tarot cards.
John Gray Thomson is the designer behind the collaged moon graphics. He is a graduate of Cornell University’s department of architecture and currently works in the Toronto office at Omar Gandhi Architect Inc.