INTRODUCING – FAKE HISTORIES – Weekly on Drivetime – FAKE HISTORIES#1 – January is named after the Roman God Janus.

FAKE HISTORIES#1 – January is named after the Roman God Janus.


What can you say about January? Why bother saying anything? Everyone in the Northern Hemisphere loathes it. Christmas and Hogmanay are over and there is no getting around the fact that Spring isn’t coming any time soon. It’s the longest month of the year. Granted, it officially shares that status with six other months, but if you live north of the equator everyone agrees it’s the draggiest, darkest, wettest, coldest, most pointless thirty-one days of the year. The Saxons used to call it ‘wolf month’ – which is a bit hard on wolves.

Maybe it’s time for a concerted Jexit campaign to get rid of it, and jump straight from December 31st to the first of February. The main argument against is that there’s no one to negotiate with. Furthermore the Australians might retaliate by campaigning for a Jexit of their own – and we Nordies certainly don’t want to get rid of July.

But where did January get its name? The assumption is that it’s called after the Roman God Janus, God of beginnings, gates, transitions, mornings, time, duality, doorways, passages and endings. So, a Godlike being with a packed portfolio of responsibilities—a bit like Britain’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, except that he doesn’t change every few months.


Given that Janus is always represented as two-faced, you might think that he deserves to have something unpleasant, like January, named after him. But he actually doesn’t. The Romans did not give him ownership of the entire month,  just New Year’s Day. That’s probably why he is always depicted as having two heads, facing in opposite directions. After New Year’s Eve festivities that’s how many of us feel when we wake up on the first of January.

Poor Janus has always had a bad press. This is inevitable if you are, quite literally, ‘two faced’. Posh politicians, like Boris Johnston or Jacob Rees Mogg, who did Latin at school and like to remind us how erudite they are, will often refer to colleagues of whom they disapprove, as ‘Janus-like’, instead of just calling them ‘two faced’ or ‘double dealing’ like the rest of us. It all reflects very badly on poor Janus. Nowadays a good PR campaign would point out that his double-facedness allows him to look backwards as well as forwards, at a time when we seem doomed to repeat the negative elements of our history because of an ignorance of our past. A well briefed Sarah Huckabee Sanders might also point out that in the Hindu religion there are gods with twice as many faces as Janus, so he’s not really that bad after all.

By the way, you might like to bear in mind that on 9 January every year the Romans used to sacrifice a ram to Janus – so perhaps, unless you are vegan or vegetarian, think about mutton or lamb for dinner that day. If you don’t eat meat or dairy you could just sacrifice a carrot or a woolly jumper.

The truth about the naming of the month of January—which, by the way, didn’t even exist in the original, ten month Roman calendar— is that it is named after the Latin word for door, ianua, because January is the door to the rest of the year – a cold, dark, clammy door with a handle you might stick to, if the Jet Stream  is pointing in the wrong direction. Not to confuse things even further but the Roman God given responsibility for watching out for January was actually Juno. Typical of the Romans to give a really thankless job to a woman.

So, in response to the question ‘Is January named after the Roman God Janus?’, the answer is no. It’s fake history.