For centuries, cultures around the world have named the full moons by characteristics of the seasons in which they occur. Using such names created a seasonal frame of reference for pre-literate societies, giving them a verbal calendar. For example, in medieval times, July was the “mead” moon, August the “grain” moon and September the “barley” moon. The Algonquian tribes’ full moon names have long been a part of American lore, thanks to publications such as the “Old Farmer’s Almanac.” The Algonquians are only one group of Native American tribes, however, who created special names for each month as defined by the moon.


Now is the season
of hungry mice,
cold rabbits,

lean owls...

from "Wolf Moon" by Mary Oliver

January -- Wolf Moon
The Algonquian’s Wolf Moon was so named because in January, a time of bitter cold and blowing snow, wolves could often be heard howling. The Arapaho of the Great Plains referred to the January moon as “when snow blows like spirits in the wind.” Similarly, the Passamaquoddy of the Great Lakes called January “whirling wind moon;” the Omaha of the Central Plains, “moon when snow drifts into tipis.” To the Choctaw of the Southeast, January was “winter’s younger brother.” The Haida of Alaska called it “bear hunting moon;” the Lakota of the Northern Plains, “hard moon;” the Shoshone of Nevada and Wyoming, “freezing moon;” and the Zuni of the Southwest, “when limbs of trees are broken by snow.”
February -- Snow Moon
February is often the month of heaviest snow. Algonquian tribes also sometimes called this the "hunger moon," because food supplies had dwindled. The Cherokee of the Southeast were no doubt referring to the difficulty of finding food in this month when they called it “bony moon.” Other references to the weather were made by the Abenaki of the Northeast, who called February “makes branches fall in pieces moon” and the Arapaho who called it “frost sparkling in the sun.” To the Choctaw, it was “wind moon;” to the Comanche of the Southern Plains, “sleet moon;” to the Lakota, “moon when the trees crack because of the cold;” to the Passamaquoddy, “when the spruce tips fall;” and to the Wishram of Washington and Oregon, “shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon.”
March -- Worm Moon
By this time of year, the ground has started to thaw; castings on the ground indicate the activity of earthworms under the surface. Other Native American names for March reflect the advent of spring: the Choctaw called it “little spring moon;” the Comanche, the Ponca of the Southern Plains, “water stands in the ponds moon;” the Pueblo of the Southwest, “moon when the leaves break forth;” the Shawnee of the Midwest, “sap moon;” and the Wishram, “long days moon.” Other names reflected the springtime activity of animals: for the Arapaho, March was “buffalo dropping their calves,” for the Omaha it was “moon when geese come home,” and for the Haida it was the “noisy goose moon.”
April -- Pink Moon
During this month, wild pink phlox, one of the first of the season’s flowers to appear, covers the ground. To the Cherokee, April was “flower moon;” to the Apache of the Southern Plains, “moon of the big leaves;” and to Comanche, “new spring moon.” For the Abenaki, it was the “sugar maker moon;” the Arapaho, “ice breaking in the river;” the Cheyenne of the Great Plains, “moon when the geese lay eggs;” and the Cree of the Northern Plains and Canada, “gray goose moon.”
May -- Flower Moon
By May, many flowers, shrubs and trees are blooming, and summer is just around the corner. The Algonquians believed in a great spirit who showed itself through all forms of nature, including plants and animals whose growth in May was abundant. The Arapaho called May “when the ponies shed their shaggy hair;” the Cheyenne, “moon when the horses get fat;” the Choctaw, “mulberry moon;” and the Cree, “frog moon.”
June -- Strawberry Moon
June marks the month when strawberries ripen, awaiting harvest. By and large the Algonquians were hunters and gatherers who shifted dwelling places to take advantage of food sources. In the summer months many families convened at a home camp, often near a lake or river. References to the bounty of nature were made by the Choctaw who called June “blackberry moon;” the Haida, “berries ripen moon;” Lakota, “moon when the berries are good.” Animal activity was also mentioned by the Potawatomi of the Great Lakes who called June “moon of the turtle;” and the Omaha, who called it “when the buffalo bulls hunt the cows.” The temperature also warms in June, causing the Ponca to refer to the month as “hot weather begins moon” and the Wishram, “fish spoils easily moon.”
July -- Buck Moon
July’s moon name refers to the time of year when male deer begin growing new antlers. For the Chippewa and Ojibwe of the Great Lakes, it was “raspberry moon;” and for the Apache of the Southern Plains, the “moon of the horse and time of ripeness.” The Comanche called it “hot moon;” the Haida of Alaska, “salmon moon;” the Omaha, “moon when the buffalo bellow;” the Sioux of the Great Plains, red blooming lilies moon;” the Winnebago of the Great Lakes, “corn-popping moon;” the Wishram, “salmon go up rivers in a group moon;” and the Zuni, “when limbs of trees are broken by fruit.”
August -- Sturgeon Moon
The month of August meant that sturgeons were plentiful in the waters of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, where the Algonquin fished, using hooks made of small animal bones or the wishbones of birds. The Assiniboine of the Northern Plains called August “black cherries moon;” the Ponca, “corn is in the silk moon;” and the Shawnee, “plum moon.” But August also meant that plants and animals were transitioning in preparation for colder weather. The Cherokee called August “drying up moon,” and the Passamaquoddy, “feather shedding moon.”
September -- Corn Moon or Harvest Moon
September’s moon refers to the time of year important to the a tribe’s survival through the winter. Corn, the native Americans’ most important food, was ready to harvest. September’s moon might also be called the Harvest Moon if it was the full moon occurring closest to the autumnal equinox. For the Chippewa and Ojibwe for whom the rice harvest was essential, it was the “rice moon.” Other mentions of harvesting were made by the Cherokee, who called it “nut moon;” the Choctaw, for whom it was “little chestnut moon;” and the Shawnee who observed the “pawpaw moon.” September’s natural changes were mentioned by the Assiniboine with “yellow leaf moon;” the Cheyenne with “drying grass moon;” and the Omaha with “moon when the deer paw the earth.”
October -- Hunter’s Moon or Harvest Moon
The name of October’s moon is a reference to the importance of the fall hunting season to the Algonquian tribes. Larger animals were hunted with bow and arrow, while smaller animals might be caught in snares and traps. Depending on the date of the autumnal equinox, the October full moon might also be the Harvest Moon. Other Native American names for October reflect cooler temperatures and leaf shedding: for the Abenaki, it was “leaf falling moon;” for the Cheyenne; “water begins to freeze on edge of streams moon;” for the Cree, “moon the birds fly south;” for the Lakota, “moon when the wind shakes off leaves;” for the Potawatomi, “moon the first frost;” for the Shawnee, “wilted moon.” Fall migratory activity of the Wishram is reflected in the name “travel in canoes moon.”
November -- Beaver Moon
November was the time of year for the Algonquians to set beaver traps before the water froze. Skins and furs of animals like the beaver provided household items and warm clothing for the winter months. For the Potawatomi, it was the “moon of the turkey” and for the Pueblo, “moon when all is gathered in.” Most other Native American names make reference to the increasingly cold temperatures: the Choctaw called November “frost moon;” the Comanche, “heading to winter moon;” the Abenaki, “freezing river maker moon;” the Creek of the Southeast, “moon when the water is black with leaves;” the Wishram, “snowy mountains in the morning moon.”
December -- Cold Moon
December’s short days mean that winter has arrived. The Algonquians also called December’s moon the "long nights moon." Other references to the arrival of winter and long nights were made by Choctaw, for whom December was “big winter moon;” the Comanche, “evergreen moon;” the Wishram, “her winter houses moon;” and the Zuni, “sun has traveled home to rest moon.” The Cheyenne called the month “moon when the wolves run together” and the Winnebago, “big bear’s moon.”

The Old Farmer's Almanac: Full Moon Names

Western Washington University Planetarium: American Indian Moons

Photo Credits:
"Full Wolf Moon" by Rick Leche
"Winter Full Moon in the Branches" by littlerottenrobin

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 19, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previousy published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)