If you’ve ever heard someone refer to an upcoming “Pink Moon,” you probably got excited, then quickly disappointed by the lack of a literal rose-colored moon in the night sky. Maybe you’ve caught the term “Wolf Moon” somewhere and panicked to find some silver to ward off the werewolves. There are all kinds of names for the moon popping up throughout the year that seemingly make zero sense (what the heck is a Beaver Moon, anyway?). So, why do full moons have names? Elite Daily did some digging to illuminate the subject, below.
The reason full moons have all these different nicknames stems back to the dark ages, before Google. People didn’t have the luxury of looking up the weather forecast or calendar app to nail down the optimal time to harvest berries or hunt deer. They had to do things the OG way: track the moon. Moon names used today are rooted in a mix of indigenous, colonial American, and European origins.
“They usually named the moons after either seasonal changes that they witnessed or patterns with animals for hunting or for agriculture,” Beverly Francis, astrologer of Elevation 44, tells Elite Daily. It was important for hunters and gatherers to keep track of these cycles and patterns so they knew when to plant and harvest crops, and when to hunt for which animals. For example, the full Strawberry Moon in June corresponds to the height of the strawberry-picking season, when the berries are ripe and ready for harvest.
“A lot of the namings were done by the tribes in the Northeast, so some of the [significations] may be a little regional,” Peter Geiger, editor of Farmers’ Almanac, tells Elite Daily. So if June isn’t the peak berry-picking season where you live, that’s why. “These names come down from Native American tribes, but there’s not only one name,” Geiger notes. “What we list in the Almanac are the most popular names, but sometimes, you’ll have a second or a third or even a fourth name, depending on which tribe [it’s from] and what observation they were making.”
Further, the different Native American moon names were traditionally used to point to the entire lunar month — starting with either the new or the full moon — rather than the single day of the full moon. And because this is the tracking of moons, not months, the two don’t always line up perfectly and can also differ by year. For example, most of the time, the Harvest Moon occurs in September, but sometimes it will fall in October. Also, note that many of the moon names used today are rough English interpretations from indigenous languages and stem from their names at one point or another in history.
Full Moon Names & Their Meanings
January: Full Wolf Moon
“January is the Full Wolf Moon because wolves come out and they’re howling and you can hear them better,” Geiger tells Elite Daily. “And the sound goes a lot longer because the skies are so clear.” This is the month wolves become more active and howl to mark their territories.
While the Wolf Moon is the most commonly used, there are multiple names for the January full moon originating across various tribes. Other names include the Center Moon, a title given by the Assiniboine people, pointing to the center of the coldest season; the Algonquin Freeze Up Moon; and the Severe Moon and Hard Moon, both Dakota, respectively referring to the harsh cold and hard-packed snow.
February: Full Snow Moon
This name is pretty self-explanatory. “February is the Full Snow Moon because it’s usually one of the snowier months,” offers Geiger. In the Northern Hemisphere, February traditionally sees the most snowfall of the year.
Alternative titles for the February moon include the Eagle Moon (Cree), the Bear Moon (Ojibwe), and the Black Bear Moon (Tlingit), to name a few.
March: Full Worm Moon
“The Full Worm Moon [is called so] because the ground starts to thaw out and worms start to come up,” Geiger explains. As the worms make their appearance, they call in the return of the robins as well.
Alternatively, the March full moon has also gone by the names Sugar Moon (Ojibwe, in reference to flowing sugar maple sap), Wind Strong Moon (Pueblo, pointing to the season’s — you guessed it — strong winds), and the Sore Eyes Moon (Dakota, Lakota, and Assiniboine, named for the intense reflection of the spring sun off the snow).
April: Full Pink Moon
While it would be really cool if the moon were actually pink, this name is in reference to something else of this color. “[It’s called the Pink Moon] because the first flowers of the springtime tend to be pink,” explains Geiger. Specifically, a Northeastern wildflower called moss pink, or moss phlox, would begin to bloom in the spring.
The April full moon has also been called the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Full Fish Moon, and the Paschal Full Moon if it occurs before Easter.
May: Full Flower Moon
Another one that’s an easy guess? The May Full Flower Moon. “That’s because the flowers are pretty much out in full,” Geiger says. As spring is creeping into summer, the flowers are busting out at the seams. According to the The Algonquin Way Cultural Centre, the Flower Moon name hails from the Algonquin people.
Other names for this blossoming season’s moon include the Cree’s Budding Moon and Leaf Budding Moon, as well as the Dakota and Lakota’s Planting Moon.
June: Full Strawberry Moon
As for the Strawberry Moon, which is the last full moon of spring and first full moon as the summer season approaches, “this was signaling that this was a great time to harvest the strawberries because this is when they reach their peak ripeness,” Francis tells Elite Daily, noting that it’s not just the strawberries that are ripe. “It's pretty much all berries [depending on location and tribe],” she continues.
The Strawberry Moon is also known as the Berries Ripen Moon from the Haida, Blooming Moon from the Anishinaabe, the Cherokee’s Green Corn Moon, and the Western Abenaki’s Hoer Moon.
July: Full Buck Moon
“The Buck Moon,” astrologer Dalanah, of the Moon Matters podcast, says, “was [named] because the deer, that's when they grew their antlers and that's when they were at their largest.” Bucks will shed their antlers and grow them back even larger around the same time each year, hence the name for the July Buck Moon.
Additionally, the July full moon is also called the Feather Moulting Moon from the Cree and the Salmon Moon from the Tlingit.
August: Full Sturgeon Moon
“The Sturgeon Moon, which is in August, is [named so] because the sturgeon fish are more plentiful in that particular month,” Geiger tells Elite Daily. Sturgeon are giant and very old (like, traced back 200 million years, old) fish of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.
Other terms for the August full moon are the Cree Flying Up Moon, referencing baby birds taking flight, the Algonquin and Ojibwe Corn Moon, the Dakota Harvest Moon, and Anishinaabe Ricing Moon, the latter three referencing agricultural milestones.
September: Full Harvest Moon (Or Corn Moon)
As mentioned, the traditional moon names don’t perfectly line up with the modern Gregorian calendar. That’s why sometimes September will denote the Harvest Moon and sometimes it’s the Corn Moon. According to Farmers’ Almanac, the full moon closest to the fall equinox is always the Harvest Moon. Usually this is the September full moon, but every three years it will be in October.
The Harvest Moon, according to Geiger, “was to designate the lighter, longer days and the brighter moonlight [that] allowed you to harvest longer in the day.” For a few nights in a row, the full Harvest Moon rises at about the same time around sunset, giving farmers a little boost to get their crops up before frost sets in.
Other names for the September full moon include the Autumn Moon (Cree), Falling Leaves Moon (Ojibwe), Leaves Turning Moon (Anishinaabe), Moon of Brown Leaves (Lakota), and the Yellow Leaf Moon (Assiniboine).
October: Full Hunter’s Moon (Or Harvest Moon)
The Hunter’s Moon follows the Harvest Moon and usually will be in October, but sometimes it’ll be pushed to November. These two full moons are named for similar reasons: In a nutshell, the extra light allowed people to get more done. “The Hunter’s Moon was named the Hunter’s Moon because people could hunt later at night,” Geiger notes. It’s also dubbed the Hunter’s Moon to signal the time that game was good and fattened, ready for winter. According to Farmers’ Almanac, it was also easier for hunters to spot animals after clearing their fields of crops during the Harvest Moon.
Alternative names for the October moon are the Drying Rice Moon (Dakota), the Falling Leaves Moon (Anishinaabe), the Freezing Moon (Ojibwe), and the Ice Moon (Haida), all signifying the agricultural period or changing of seasons.
November: Full Beaver Moon
The November moon name (unless it’s a Hunter’s Moon) references animals preparing for winter. “[The name] represents what was going on at the time,” Dalanah tells Elite Daily. “It’s not just about the moon; the moon sadly didn't look like a beaver.” Instead, the Beaver Moon is in reference to the period when beavers would start to hide away for the winter in their shelters. It’s also a time when beavers were in season for trapping during the North American fur trade.
The November full moon has also been called the Digging Moon by the Tlingit, pointing to foraging animals, the Deer Rutting Moon, for deer mating season, used by the Dakota and Lakota, and the Algonquin Whitefish Moon, for the fish’s spawning season.
December: Full Cold Moon
As you may have surmised, the Cold Moon points to the cold and dark period of the year, and as the December full moon, it’s also been called the Moon before Yule. Pretty much every alternative name for this full moon relates to it falling in the heart of the winter season. Other terms include the Drift Clearing Moon (Cree), the Frost Exploding Trees Moon (Cree), the Moon of the Popping Trees (Oglala), the Hoar Frost Moon (Cree), the Snow Moon (Haida and Cherokee), the Winter Maker Moon (Western Abenaki), and the Long Night Moon (Mohican).
Peter Geiger, editor of Farmers’ Almanac