Days of the Week in Mongolian & Buryat: Planetary and Numbered Names

Present-day Mongolian as spoken in Mongolia has two sets of names for the days of the week.

The predominant system uses numbered names as given below. (The traditional Mongolian script is given for reference; Mongolia now almost exclusively uses the Cyrillic alphabet):

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
ᠪᠦᠲᠦᠨ ᠰᠠᠢᠨ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠨᠢᠭᠡᠳᠡᠬᠢ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠬᠣᠶᠠᠳᠠᠬᠢ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠭᠣᠷᠪᠠᠳᠠᠬᠢ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠳᠦᠷᠪᠡᠳᠡᠬᠢ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠲᠠᠪᠣᠳᠠᠬᠢ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠰ ᠰᠠᠢᠨ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ
бүтэн сайн өдөр нэгдэх өдөр хоёрдахь өдөр гуравдахь өдөр дөрөвдэх өдөр тавдахь өдөр хагас сайн өдөр
büteŋ saiŋ ödör neg dekh ödör khoyor dakh' ödör gurav dakh' ödör döröv dekh ödör tav dakh' ödör khagas saiŋ ödör
'full good day' (='full holiday') 'first day' 'second day' 'third day' 'fourth day' 'fifth day' 'half good day' (='half holiday')

The word өдөр ödör 'day' can be omitted in ordinary conversation.

The days from Monday to Friday use ordinal numbers; that is, they go ‘day no. 1’, ‘day no. 2’, 'day no. 3', etc. All use дахь dakh' or дэх dekh 'number', with the form depending on the vowel in the preceding word. Хоёр khoyor, гурав gurav, and тав tav contain masculine vowels, resulting in the use of дахь dakh'; нэг neg and дөрөв döröv contain feminine vowels, resulting in the use of дэх dekh. The different vowels do not influence the meaning.

The exceptions to this are the two weekend days, which are named according to whether there is a full day off work (Sunday) or only half a day (Saturday). Although this is now becoming anachronistic, especially for staff in larger companies, the naming remains unchanged. The word for 'week' in Mongolian is долоо хоног doloo khonog, literally 'seven days'.

This straightforward Mongolian naming gives little hint of its possible origin. To help connect the dots, it is useful to look at Mongolian as it is spoken across the border in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China. Mongols in China use virtually the same numbering system as in Mongolia but the format is different:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠡᠳᠦᠷ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠨᠢᠭᠡᠨ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠬᠣᠶᠠᠷ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠭᠣᠷᠪᠠᠨ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠳᠦᠷᠪᠡᠨ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠲᠠᠪᠣᠨ ᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠦᠨ ᠵᠢᠷᠭᠣᠭᠠᠨ
гарагийн өдөр гарагийн нэгэн гарагийн хоёр гарагийн гурван гарагийн дөрвөн гарагийн таван гарагийн зургаан
garagiŋ ödör garagiŋ negeŋ garagiŋ khoyor garagiŋ gurvaŋ garagiŋ dörvöŋ garagiŋ tavaŋ garagiŋ zurgaaŋ
'day of the week'
'one of the week' 'two of the week' 'three of the week' 'four of the week' 'five of the week' 'six of the week'

The Mongolian names used in China have several interesting features:

These names correspond closely to the official Chinese names for the days of the week, which use the word 星期 xīngqī 'week'. The Mongolian names have been derived by mechanically replacing 星期 xīngqī 'week' (literally 'star period') with гараг garag 'week / planet'. As in Chinese, 'Sunday' is known as the 'week day'. Like the Chinese word 星期 xīngqī 'star period', which alludes to the planetary names brought to China by the Buddhists a millennium ago, гараг garag 'planet' is a direct reference to planetary naming of the days of the week, which was familiar to the Mongols through their exposure to Tibetan culture (for more on this, see below).

Despite the difference in format, there is a distinct possibility that the names used in Mongolia and those used in Inner Mongolia have a common origin. Intriguingly, one Inner Mongolian dictionary captures this by giving the names of the days of the week in a format that incorporates both. For instance, Monday is given as гарагийн нэгдэх өдөр garagiŋ neg dekh ödör 'number one day of the week', using both гарагийн garagiŋ 'week/planet' and дэх dekh 'number'. Without research into historical sources, however, it is not possible to state definitively that the two sets of modern names actually derive from this single format.

Evidence from Buryat, a variety of Mongolian spoken to the north of Mongolia in Buryatia (Russian Federation), yields conflicting results. The Buryat language is very close to Mongolian and is treated in both China and Mongolia as a dialect of Mongolian. However, in Russia it is an independent language with its own literary standard.

The native Buryat names (which have now largely been replaced by Russian names) are as follows:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
гарагай нэгэн гарагай хоёр гарагай гурбан гарагай дүрбэн гарагай табан гарагай зургаан гарагай долоон
garagaj nägän garagaj ȟojor garagaj gurban garagaj dürbän garagaj taban garagaj zurgaan garagaj doloon
'one of the week' 'two of the week' 'three of the week' 'four of the week' 'five of the week' 'six of the week' 'seven of the week'

These names follow the same format as those of Inner Mongolian names, using the term гараг garag, 'planet' or 'week'. This suggests that the "гараг garag plus genitive" format was once common across Mongolian-speaking areas, both to the north and south of modern-day Mongolia.

On the other hand, Buryat uses a different numbering convention from both Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. Sunday gains the title 'first day of the week' and the following days are numbered accordingly. The origins of this numbering are unclear. Most languages in the surrounding area, as well as Russian, treat Monday as the first day of the week. The closest languages treating Monday as the second day are neighbouring Turkic languages and cultures that have borrowed the Persian names. For example, the Persian word for Monday, دوشَنبه dūshanbah 'second day', has been borrowed into Kazakh (дүйсенбi düysenbi), Kyrgyz (дүйшөмбүa düyşömbü), Uyghur (دۈشەنبە düshenbe) and others. The Iranian language Tajik uses the same term душанбе duşanbe. It is not inconceivable that these languages influenced Buryat. However, there does not appear to be a plausible channel of influence in the given time frame (early 20th century). One possible reason for the difference from other Mongolian areas is that Sunday (termed, as we have seen, as 'week day' in Inner Mongolia) was renamed to make it more meaningful, giving rise to a difference in numbering. Without a proper study of historical materials, both of these hypotheses remain mere conjecture.

To sum up the numerical names:

1. Inner Mongolia uses names modelled on the Chinese 星期 xīngqī names, which came into official use in 1912. The names feature the word гараг garag 'planet', which was familiar from the Tibetan planetary names. Possibly under the influence of 星期 xīngqī, the word гараг garag now also means 'week' in Inner Mongolia.

2. Mongolia has an ordinal numbering system for the weekdays while naming the weekend days as rest days. Mongolia does not use the word гараг garag in naming the days of the week and has a separate word for week meaning 'seven-days'. However, the term гараг garag is familiar from the Tibetan planetary names, which are still in use in Mongolia (see below).

3. Buryat has a now largely defunct system of names that resembles the Inner Mongolian names in form. However, the numbering is different, starting with Sunday as day no. 1, and there does not appear to be a plausible explanation for this difference.

Planetary names

As a result of the profound influence of Tibetan Buddhism (lamaism) on the Mongols through the centuries, Mongolian has historically used both Tibetan and Sanskrit planetary names for the days of the week. In addition, there are also native Mongolian names and names influenced by Chinese. (See Note 13: The Seven Luminaries in Mongolian)

The only planetary names currently in use in Mongolian for naming the days of the week are the Tibetan names. These are written forms, principally found in documents and public signs, e.g., advertising hours of business. They are not used in Inner Mongolia. The Tibetan names are as follows (with Buryat forms given below):

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
ᠨᠢᠮ᠎ᠠ ᠳᠠᠸᠠ ᠮᠢᠭᠮᠠᠷ ᡀᠠᠭᠪᠠ ᠫᠦᠷᠪᠦ ᠪᠠᠰᠠᠩ ᠪᠢᠮᠪᠡ

ням

даваа мягмар лхагва пүрэв баасан бямба
nyam davaa myagmar khlagv pürev baasaŋ byamb
'sun'
'moon' 'Mars' 'Mercury' 'Jupiter' 'Venus' 'Saturn'
(Buryat)

няма

дабаа мягмар һагба пүрбэ баасан бямба
njama dabaa mjagmar hagba pürbä baasan bjamba

In their full form, these names include the word гарaг garag (or гариг garig) meaning ‘planet’: ням гараг nyam garag 'sun planet', даваа гараг davaa garag 'moon planet', мягмар гараг myagmar garag 'Mars planet', хлагва гараг khlagv garag 'Mercury planet', пүрэв гараг pürev garag 'Jupiter planet', баасан гараг baasaŋ garag 'Venus planet', and бяамба гараг byamb garag 'Saturn planet'.

The original Tibetan names are:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
གཟའ་ཉི་མ། གཟའ་ཟླ་བ། གཟའ་མིག་དམར། གཟའ་ལླག་པ། གཟའ་ཕུར་བུ། གཟའ་པ་སངས། གཟའ་སྤེན་པ།
gza' nyi ma gza' zla ba gza' mig dmar gza' lhag pa gza' phur bu gza' pa sangs gza' spen pa
'planet sun'
'planet moon' 'planet Mars' 'planet Mercury' 'planet Jupiter' 'planet Venus' 'planet Saturn'

These names were based on Indian models, which were, in turn, based on influence from from ancient Mesopotamia (Note 4: The Buddhist route of transmission).

Besides the Tibetan names, Mongolian has historically used Indian and native planetary terms for the days of the week. However, with the exception of the Kalmyk language in Russia, these are no longer used for the days of the week and are mostly used to name the planets themselves and in personal names, which are given according to the day of the week on which a person was born.

Indian names for the days of the week are as follows. These are the normal names for the planets in Mongolian, and are also used in personal names (including Санчир sanchir, Сугар sugar, Адъяа adyaa, and Ангараг angarag).

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
ᠠᠳᠢᠶ᠎ᠠ ᠰᠣᠮᠢᠶ᠎ᠠ ᠠᠩᠭᠠᠷᠠᠭ ᠪᠣᠳ᠋ ᠪᠠᠷᠠᠬᠠᠰᠪᠠᠳᠢ ᠱᠣᠭᠠᠷ᠎ᠠ ᠰᠠᠨᠢᠴᠠᠷ
адъяа сумъяа ангараг буд бархасбадь сугар санчир
ad-yaa sum-ya angarag bud barkhasbad' sugar sanchir
'sun'
'moon' 'Mars' 'Mercury' 'Jupiter' 'Venus' 'Saturn'

In their full form, these names are also accompanied by the word гарaг garag ‘planet’. Slight variations in spelling include Ангариг angarig for Ангараг angarag and Бархасбад barkhasbad for Бархасбадь barkhasbad'. These planetary names are found in both Hindi and Southeast Asian languages such as Thai.

A third set of planetary names uses native Mongolian words. For the weekdays, these are based on the five elements of Chinese, thus paralleling the Seven Luminaries of Chinese and similar to the Japanese names of the days of the week.

The native planetary names are as shown below (from Mongolian Wikipedia and Antoine Mostaert via China History Forum, with disagreement about the word for Friday):

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
наран өдөр саран өдөр гал өдөр усан өдөр модон өдөр төмөр өдөр,
алтан өдөр
шороон өдөр
naraŋ ödör saraŋ ödör gal ödör usaŋ ödör modoŋ ödör tömör ödör,
altaŋ ödör
shorooŋ ödör
'sun day'
'moon day' 'fire day' 'water day' 'wood day' 'iron day, gold day' 'earth day'

These are seldom used except for the purpose of bestowing personal names.

Kalmyk names

There is one language in the Mongolian group that still maintains the planetary names for the days of the week: Kalmyk, which is closely related to the Oirat form of Mongolian. It is spoken in Kalmykia in Russia, where it has been standardised with a different Cyrillic orthography from Mongolian and Buryat.

Kalmyk uses a mixture of Tibetan and native planetary names for the days of the week (from geonames.de):

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
нарн сарң мигмр үлмҗ пүрвә басң бембә
narn sarṅ migmr ülmǰ pürvä basṅ bembä
'sun' 'moon' 'Mars' 'Mercury' 'Jupiter' 'Venus' 'Saturn'

The Tibetan names survive at Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. For Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, Kalmyk uses native Mongolian words'. (For details, see Note 13: The Seven Luminaries in Mongolian).

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