All the Names We Call the Moon - Atlas Obscura
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All the Names We Call the Moon

A Supermoon is coming.

Hello, Moon.
Hello, Moon. Public domain

Here comes the Supermoon, the Snow Moon, the Cold Moon, the Long Night Moon, the Yule Moon.

On Sunday, December 3, the moon will be big and bright in the sky, and it will be at the point in its orbit when it’s closest to Earth. Now in America we call the Moon, under those circumstances, a Supermoon, a term coined in 1979 by a marketing-minded scientist; other scientists call it a perigee syzygy, which refers to both the Moon’s distance from Earth and its alignment with us and with the Sun.

There’s also an apogee syzygy, which is sometimes also called a Micromoon, a less popular moon to try to spot, because we like things big.

The moon is one of the great constants of living on Earth, even as it’s constantly changing. It disappears; it returns, time after time. And so over and over again, we name the moon, the ways it changes, and the rhythms it marks.

We call it the New Moon, the Crescent Moon (new and old), the Gibbous Moon (waxing, waning), the Half Moon, the Quarter Moon (first and last). In Hawai’i, there are more ways to call the moon as it grows and shrinks: Hilo Moon, Hoaka Moon, Kūkahi Moon, Kūlua Moon, Kūkkolu Moon (with a low tide in the afternoon), Kūpau Moon, ‘Olekūkahi Moon, ‘Olekūlua Moon (the most challenging moon), and now we’re only halfway through. Each of these moons is just a sliver more in the sky, but people noticed and called each lunar advance a new name.

A Supermoon sets over the front range of the Rocky Mountains, Colo., Nov. 15, 2016.
A Supermoon sets over the front range of the Rocky Mountains, Colo., Nov. 15, 2016. US Air Force/ Dennis Hoffman/ Public Domain

Of course, there are many other words for Moon in many other languages. Luna, tungi, kuu, hli, cap, yoreh, maan, mwezi, bulan, marama, ay, and more and more. Luna was also a goddess, one among the many deities who have represented the Moon over time. When we talk about the lunar landing in English, we’re honoring, in a way, a divine being whose worshippers all died long ago.

But there are also names for the Moon that notice when it’s come, what part of the year this cycle of the Moon is marking out. November’s moon is the Beaver Moon. There is the Harvest Moon, which many people place in fall, but then there are Moons for specific harvests: Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Hay Moon, Grain Moon, Fruit Moon, Nut Moon, Blackberry Moon, Strawberry Moon. There are moons for killing: Buck Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Hare Moon, Sturgeon Moon. There are Moons for growing things: Pink Moon (when the first spring flowers appear), Egg Moon, Budding Moon. There are Moons for harder times: Little Famine Moon, Big Famine Moon, Hungry Moon, Bony Moon, Dying Moon.

There is a regular old Blood Moon, and then there is the special Blood Moon of the lunar eclipse, which glows red. There is the well-known Blue Moon, the second full moon in the same calendar month, but there is also a Black Moon, a month’s second new moon. To some extent, these are arbitrary terms, because the limits we put on time, the complicated math of the solar calendar and its months, do not affect the Moon. Super or micro, black or blue, it keeps circling around the Earth, sweeping further and closer, again and again, no matter what names we call it.