How Each Full Moon Got Its Name (and When to See Them)

How Each Full Moon Got Its Name (and When to See Them)
Photo: Marina Zezelina (Shutterstock)

This month’s hunter’s moon got me thinking about moon names, and wondering if the full moon in every month has its own name. Spoiler: It does.

The name “harvest moon” makes sense — it’s the moon we’d see when we’d be harvesting crops if we didn’t live in a post-industrial hellscape — but the meanings of other moon names are less immediately obvious. Like why does the “sturgeon moon” rise in August? And what the hell is a “full worm moon?”

What is the actual name of the Moon?

In English, the Earth’s moon is called “the Moon.” That’s it; nothing more specific.

The Moon’s name dates back to a time when we didn’t realise other planets had moons, so there was no need to distinguish Earth’s moon from, say, Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

Where full moon names come from

Different cultures have different names for full moons, and there’s no “official” designation for any moon — so you can call the full moon whatever name you like. The most well known and used moon names in the United States, though, derive largely from Native Americans, who told time based on lunar cycles rather than by the sun. In a sense, these are the months named for the moons, as opposed to the moon’s name within the month.

It’s actually a little more complicated than that, because moon names usually came from colonial interpretations of Native American language, and the colonists also brought European moon names into the mix. Different groups of Native Americans had different names for the full moons, too, so the whole thing is pretty loosey-goosey.

Below are the moon names that caught on for each month, and a few colourful alternatives that aren’t as widely used, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. But first, let me get a few non-traditional full moons out of the way.

Blue moon, black moon, and supermoon

These three moon names describe rarely occurring kinds of full moons, and do not come from Native Americans.

Blue moon: Because the Moon’s schedule doesn’t hew to Man’s calendar, occasionally there are two full moons in a single month. This is called a “blue moon,” and it happens about once every two-and-a-half years (or “once in a blue moon.”) The next blue moon with be on Aug. 31, 2023.

Black moon: When there is no full moon in a month, it’s called a black moon. It can only occur in February, because the moon is on a 29.5-day cycle, and February has 28 days (unless it’s a leap year.) We get a black moon about once every 19 years. The next black moon will happen in 2037, meaning there will be two full moons in January and March: Double blue moon! Jackpot!

“Black moon” also can mean the second new moon in a month. That will happen on May 19, 2023.

Supermoon: When the Moon’s orbit brings it closest to earth and it’s a full moon, we call it a supermoon. It appears slightly larger than a regular full moon, and it makes the tides more extreme. The name “supermoon” was coined in 1979.

With the outliers out of the way, below are the names of the “normal” full moons.

January: Wolf moon

January’s full moon is referred to as “the wolf moon” because, supposedly, wolves howl more loudly and longer at this time of year. Wolves howl to mark territory, to gather for hunting, and to find each other, but we don’t know if wolves howl at the moon. They face the moon while howling, though.

Best alternative January moon names: Frost exploding moon, severe moon, greetings moon.

When to see it: Jan.17, 2022

February: Full snow moon

Surprisingly, this moon gets its name from the fact that it tends to snow a lot in the US in February.

Best alternative February moon names: Month of the bony moon, groundhog moon, hungry moon.

When to see it: Feb. 16, 2022

March: Full worm moon

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the full worm moon gets its name from either “the earthworms of warming spring soil,” or from larvae, “which emerge from the bark of trees and other winter hideouts around this time.”

Best alternative March moon names: Crow comes back moon, goose moon, snow crust moon.

When to see it: March 18, 2022

April: Full pink moon

The pink moon inspired a fantastic Nick Drake album. It is thought to have been named for the yearly appearance of ground phlox, adorable pink perennials that are among the earliest of the spring flowers.

Best alternative April moon names: Broken snowshoe moon, moon when the streams are again navigable, sucker moon.

When to see it: April 16, 2022

May: Full flower moon

This moon got its name because someone said, “Look at all the flowers that are growing now. Let’s name the moon for them!” And everyone else went, “Yeah, man, cool! Let’s do that!” Except this one guy who was like, “But I want to call it ‘Moon of shedding ponies.’” (This conversation is entirely historically accurate, by the way.)

When to see it: May 16, 2022

Best alternative May moon names: Moon of shedding ponies, egg laying moon, bud moon.

June: Full strawberry moon

It’s June; time to pick the strawberries, buddy. So get out there and gather ‘em up.

Best alternative June moon names: Hoer moon, hot moon, egg laying moon, Old Moony Joe (I made that one up).

When to see it: June 14, 2022

July: Full buck moon

July’s full moon is named this because this is when a young buck’s antlers are fully grown.

Best alternative July moon names: Moon when the chokeberries are ripe, raspberry moon, thunder moon.

When to see it: July 13, 2022

August: Full sturgeon moon

This moon is named “sturgeon” because this is the month when the fish of lake Champlain and the Great Lakes are most easily caught. Mmmm fried sturgeon.

Best alternative August moon names: Ricing moon, mountain shadows moon, black cherry moon (RIP, Prince).

When to see it: Aug. 11, 2022

September: Harvest Moon

The most famous of all full moons, harvest moon is named because September is harvest time specifically for corn, or “maize” if you prefer.

Best alternative names for September moons: Moon when the rice is laid up to dry, yellow leaf moon, falling leafs moon.

When to see it: Sept. 10, 2022

October: Hunter’s moon

The hunter’s moon got its name because October is a good month to hunt for meat for the coming winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Deer call October’s moon the “Oh shit! They’re trying to kill us!” moon.

When to see it: Oct. 20, 2021

Best alternative names for October’s moon: Falling leaves moon, freezing moon, migrating moon.

November: Full beaver moon

The full beaver moon was named for your mum.

Not really. Really it’s because this is when the beavers have finished preparing for winter and retreat into their lodges for a long rest.

(I’m sorry for saying that thing about your mum earlier.)

Best alternative names for November’s moon: Whitefish moon, deer rutting moon, frost moon.

When to see it: Nov. 19, 2021

December: Full cold moon

This full moon’s name is because it’s cold in December. I’m no moon-name-critic, but this month’s moon has a disappointingly pedestrian moniker. It’s useful, sure, but where is the poetry?

Best alternative names for December’s moon: Frost exploding trees moon, moon where the deer shed their antlers, long night moon.

When to see it: Dec. 18, 2021

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