Full Moon Names and What They Mean

CC BY 2.0. Rachel Kramer/Flickr

With no shortage of poetry, many Native American tribes once tracked time by naming full moons rather than months.

To those of us who live with the Gregorian calendar, it’s hard to imagine July as anything but July. But for many early Native American tribes, “July” would have been meaningless. These tribes kept tabs on time by observing the seasons and especially the celestial clock known as the moon. Rather than months as we know them, they watched the year pass in a series of moons, each one named for a predominate display of nature. How lovely to be so in touch with the planet that time could be marked in such a way; instead; instead, we now get months named after numbers and Caesars (okay, we have some gods and goddesses thrown in there too, but still).

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, each tribe had different methods for describing the year. Some had four seasons, some five. Some tribes defined a year as 12 moons, others 13 – and some tribes using a 12-moon lunar model added a 13th every few years, presumably to keep up with the blue moon that occurs on occasion. And while not all tribes used the same names for their moons, there was a lot of crossover. In general, however, the same ones were consistent throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. Here are some of the more common ones.

January: Full Wolf Moon
Hungry wolf packs howling on the edge of Indian villages gave rise to the January moon name. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon.

February: Full Snow Moon
Tribes in the north and east named February’s moon after the predominate meteorological feature of the month: heavy snow. Some tribes also referred to this moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since hunting and harvest were both in short supply.

March: Full Worm Moon
Not as glamorous as some of the other moons, but thawed ground and the appearance of earthworm casts must have been a beautiful sight to those not accustomed to a supermarket with produce from South America to keep them fed during the winter. The more northern tribes called this moon the Full Crow Moon, for the return of cawing crows; or the Full Crust Moon, for the crust that forms on snow when it thaws and freezes. It was also known as the Full Sap Moon since this was the time to start tapping trees.

April: Full Pink Moon
The earliest widespread flowers of spring included herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which gave rise to the Full Pink Moon. Other names included Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Full Egg Moon, and for tribes along the coast, the Full Fish Moon for spawning shad.

May: Full Flower Moon
No jokes about Mayflowers here, it's just that May and flowers do go hand in hand. Other names included the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Full Milk Moon.

June: Full Strawberry Moon
While most moons varied by name from tribe to tribe, June’s Full Strawberry Moon was universal amongst all of them. Strawberry harvest was relatively short and widely revered.

July: The Full Buck Moon
If the new antlers are pushing up through a buck’s forehead, it must be the time of the Full Buck Moon; though some tribes called this moon the Full Thunder Moon given that mid-summer is so rife with thunderstorms.

August: Full Sturgeon Moon
The moon that marked the phase when sturgeon were most readily caught was named for piscine abundance; although tribes that didn’t fish may have known it as the Full Red Moon for the tint the moon takes when viewed through warm-weather haze. It was also known as the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

September: Full Corn Moon
The Full Corn Moon marked the time of year when corn is ready for harvest. We often still refer to the September full moon as the Harvest Moon – the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox, a moon that is so bright farmers could work by the light of it.

October: Full Hunter’s Moon
Time to start storing up for winter; the deer are fat and with fields freshly reaped, fox and other animals sneaking fallen grains could be easily spotted by hunters. With winter and its lean months looming, the Hunter’s Moon was given special honor and served as an important feast day. October’s moon was also known as the Full Blood Moon, or Full Sanguine Moon.

November: Full Beaver Moon
With swamps and waterways soon set to freeze, beavers were trapped now to ensure warm pelts to survive the winter. It was also sometimes known as the Full Frosty Moon.

December: The Full Cold Moon
Yep. Full cold. But December’s moon was also known as the Long Nights Moon. Not only are December nights wildly enduring, but because the midwinter moon has a high trajectory opposite a low sun, it remains in the sky for a long time. Not only do we have long nights, but so does the moon.