A full moon is an unmistakable celestial event that basks Earth with its lunar glow, inspiring songwriters, scientists, and the occasional werewolf rampage. Throughout human history, moon phases have signaled changes in seasons and marked important cultural transitions, such planting or hunting, all reasons that people took to inventing monikers for each full moon.
Ancient full moon names, often originated from Native American tribes, and the names usually symbolized something about the weather conditions or nature at the time the moon was likely to appear. European settlers adopted those names and added some of their own. Periodicals like The Farmer’s Almanac publicized the names for a wider audience. Other cultures had their own names for the moons as well.
On those nights, the moon is a full disc shape, and on cloud-free night it reflects full sunlight, illuminating the Earth below in dreamlike glow. Full moons occur about every 29.5 days. The second full moon in a month is usually known as a blue moon (see sidebar).
Here’s a list of some of the most common names for the full moon in the Northern Hemisphere, with alternate names in parentheses.
January: Wolf Moon (Old Moon, Moon After Yule)
When January’s icy grip clutches the land, hungry wolves roam in search of prey. Their lonely howls inspire the name of this moon.
February: Snow Moon (Hunger Moon)
In North America, this is a snowy and frigid month. It’s also a lean time when food is hard to find in the wild.
March: Worm Moon (Crow Moon, Sap Moon)
As February’s deep freeze relents, March winds warm the land, and earthworms begin to awaken from their winter slumber.
April: Pink Moon (Egg Moon, Grass Moon)
Native Americans noted pink wildflowers emerging around the time of the April full moon. The flowers’ hue gave rise to the moniker “pink moon.”
May: Flower Moon (Milk Moon, Planting Moon)
April showers bring May flowers, so May is a time of lush revitalization across North America.
June: Strawberry Moon (Flower Moon, Rose Moon)
If you really love strawberries, you plant the June-bearing species. Then, as June’s sunlight warms the land, your plants bear fruit under the full June moon.
July: Buck Moon
Every year, male deer begin growing their antlers anew around July. The buck moon marks this occasion.
August: Sturgeon Moon (Grain Moon, Green Corn Moon)
In North America, sturgeon became more abundant and easier to catch in August, making this the sturgeon moon.
September: Harvest Moon (Fruit Moon)
As summer fades, the weather turns cold and the days get shorter. The harvest moon is nigh.
October: Hunter’s Moon
After a summer of plenty, the game animals of North America are in peak condition. It’s traditionally the best time for hunters to take to the field, stocking up on meat for the winter.
November: Beaver Moon (Frosty Moon)
Beavers briskly prepare their dams for winter, and trappers step up their efforts to catch the chubby little guys in the act. It’s the Beaver moon.
December: Cold Moon (Full Long Nights Moon)
If you’ve ever been to North Dakota in December, this one requires no interpretation whatsoever.
The moon and sun aren’t perfectly in sync, so every year the moon finishes its final cycle a few days before the sun. Over time, those days accumulate, and every two and a half years or so there is an extra full moon during the calendar year. That moon is called the blue moon, which gave rise to the phrase, “once in a blue moon.”