Many human cultures have given names to the full moon throughout the year. Different full moon names can be found among the Chinese, Celtic, Old English, and New Guinea cultures, to name a few. In addition, Native American tribes often used moon phases and cycles to keep track of the seasons and gave a unique name to each recurring full moon. The full moon names were used to identify the entire month during which each occurred.
Although many Native American Tribes gave distinct names to the full moon, the most well known names of the full moon come from the Algonquin tribes who lived in the area of New England and westward to Lake Superior. The Algonquin tribes had perhaps the greatest effect on the early European settlers in America, and the settlers adopted the Native American habit of naming the moons. They even invented some of their own names that have been passed down through time.
The names given below aren't the only ones that have been used. Every full moon, with one exception, had variations on its name among various Algonquin tribes, not to mention other tribes throughout North America. But the names below are the most common. Some of the variations are also mentioned.
January: The Wolf Moon
In January snow gathers deep in the woods and the howling of wolves can be heard echoing in the cold still air. Some tribes called this moon the Snow Moon, but most often it was used for the next month.
February: The Snow Moon
Snow piles even higher in February, giving this moon its most common name. Among tribes that used this name for the January moon, the February moon was called the Hunger Moon due to the challenging hunting conditions.
March: The Worm Moon
Snow slowly begins to melt, the ground softens, and earthworms show their heads again and their castings or fecal matter can be found. Other signs of spring gave rise to other variations: the cawing of crows (the Crow Moon); the formation of crusts on the snow from repeated thawing and freezing (the Crust Moon); and the time for tapping maple trees (the Sap Moon). Christian settlers also called this the Lenten Moon and considered it the last moon of winter.
April: The Pink Moon
Flowers begin to appear, including the widespread grass pink or wild ground phlox. Other variations indicate more signs of full spring, such as Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, and Fish Moon (common among coastal tribes).
May: The Flower Moon
Flowers come into full bloom and corn is ready to plant. Also called the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
June: The Strawberry Moon
Strawberry-picking season reaches its peak during this time. This is one of the few names that was universal to all Algonquin tribes.
July: The Buck Moon
Buck deer start growing velvety hair-covered antlers in July. Frequent thunderstorms in the New England area also resulted in the name Thunder Moon. Some tribes also used Hay Moon.
August: The Sturgeon Moon
The sturgeon, a large fish common to the Great Lakes and other nearby bodies of water, is most easily caught during this month. The reddish appearance of the moon through the frequent sultry hazes of August also prompted a few tribes to dub it the Red Moon. Other names included the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.
September: The Harvest Moon
Many of the Native American tribes' staple foods, such as corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and rice, are ready for gathering at this time. The strong light of the Harvest Moon allowed European farmers to work late into the night to harvest their crops. The Harvest Moon does not always occur in September. Traditionally, the name goes to the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, which falls during October once or twice a decade. Sometimes the September full moon was called the Corn Moon.
October: The Hunter's Moon
After the fields have been reaped, the leaves begin to fall and the deer are fat and ready for eating. Hunters can ride easily over the fields' stubble, and the fox and other animals are more easily spotted. Some years the Harvest Moon falls in October instead of September.
November: The Beaver Moon
At this time of year the beavers are busy preparing for winter, and it's time to set beaver traps and secure a store of warm fur before the swamps freeze over. Some tribes called this the Frosty Moon.
Winter takes a firm hold and temperatures plummet at this time. Sometimes this moon is also called the Long Night Moon as the winter nights lengthen and the moon spends more time above the horizon opposite a low sun. The full moon name often used by Christian settlers is the "Moon before Yule".
Note that due to the 29-day lunar cycle the exact dates of the full moon move every year. Most seasons have three full moons, but because of the variation some seasons have four full moons. The term "blue moon" was used to identify one of these extra full moons. A mistaken definition in the March 1946 edition of Sky and Telescope magazine claimed the blue moon fell on the second full moon of the calendar month. This mistake caused widespread misunderstanding until it was finally corrected in 1999.