The Rotterdam Month and Weekday Naming System

 by Frans Blok

I consider myself a fan of the Darian Calendar. I'm touched by the magic of the number 24 and the way it can be divided in equal portions of 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 months. The idea of having a holisol at the end of short months could be the start of a coherent system of official Martian holidays and festivals. Always knowing directly which date is next Wednesday or on what day is the 21st sounds like a huge innovation. The relation of the month's length with the human menstruation cycle is sympathetic too.

Although I also really appreciate Tom Gangale's effort to create a calendar that both east and west can identify with, it's this mix of Latin and Sanskrit month names that I feel could be rationalized a little further. Twenty-four months make a lot of names to remember for newcomers and for a while, everybody on Mars will be a newcomer.

A solution may be found in the fact that the number of 24 months is pretty close to the number of 26 letters in the Roman alphabet, especially if you realize that Q is just some kind of K that always needs a U in its vicinity and Y is a schizophrenic character that doesn't even make it clear if it's a vowel or a consonant.

While alphabetical schemes have the advantage of a built-in mnemonic, critics could say they also have the defect of a built-in cultural bias, because a lot of fellow Martians may be used to other alphabets in their countries of origin. But if we're not going to design a new Martian alphabet, I think the Roman alphabet represents the only logical choice: it is used in North and South America, Australia, most of Europe and Africa and some parts of Asia, whereas all other alphabets have a much smaller range and in the countries where they're used there's usually some knowledge of the Roman alphabet.

The next question: which pool to draw the names from? Using names of constellations would be confusing, because their alphabetical order, of course, doesn't have any relationship with their placement in the sky. I considered several other options:

1.Names of gods and goddesses from ancient cultures around the globe. Names that are easy to pronounce for the average tongue and throat should have preference, so the first month should be Apollo rather than Asklepius. I did some research and found an interesting website about Chinese and Aztec mythology, but the names I found there didn't exactly match the pronunciation criteria...

2.Names of celebrities in space exploration (like Bill Hollon suggested). A useful idea at first sight, and both Aldrin and Zubrin would make good, pronounceable names. But Aldrin and Zubrin are still alive and hopefully will be for a very long time. It may be a theoretical option, but what if one of those people would successfully run for president and become a controversial person nationally and internationally? On top of this the calendar would be dominated by American and Russian names, so if you're looking for a cultural bias, here is a major one.

3 Names of dead scientists and space pioneers. But those guys already find their names back all over the Solar System, either as spacecraft or as surface features, so do we really also have to name months after Cassini, Galileo or Kepler?

Finally I realized that as far as I know nobody explored the idea of inventing completely new names. I became convinced there are several attractive sides to it. First, it would not favour one culture above others and it would avoid sensitivities that may exist around certain names. Second, it would be a nice push forward for Martian culture; now that almost everything on Mars has been named after places or people from earth, it's time to invent some new names. Third, it creates an opportunity to make the built-in mnemonic system even more sophisticated, the names can be shaped in a way that they enhance the logical structure of the calendar (and making the names less arbitrary is an effective way to reduce the billions of possibilities you can get with just 24 characters).

I dropped the idea of avoiding any sounds that might cause problems for some nationalities, like the R for the Chinese or the H for Eastern Europeans. It's impossible to please everybody, and I simply needed 24 of the 26 letters in the alphabet to make this idea of alphabetical order work. After all, my aim is not to design a kind of Martian Esperanto. Whatever names will be chosen, everybody will pronounce them differently. Still I tried to avoid real tongue-breakers as much as possible by using both vowels and consonants only solo or in pairs (combinations of 8 consonants are not uncommon in Dutch, my native language, but I'm afraid most other peoples tongues are less athletic...).

It seemed like a good idea to have Mars' variable orbital velocity reflected in the length of the names. You don't even have to know the order of the months by heart to realize that a short name must be a spring month. The rule of thumb for future generations of Martian schoolchildren will be "the names are fast when Mars is slow". The first seven months (spring in the north, fall in the south) have four characters and two syllables, numbers 8 through 13 (summer/winter) as well as 19 through 24 (winter/summer) count six characters and three syllables and months 14 through 18 (fall/spring) have eight letters and four syllables.

On top of this I thought the months that are (or can be) one day shorter should have shorter names, so these are always one letter and one syllable shorter than the other ones in their season.

I also wanted the naming system to emphasize that twenty-four can easily be divided in two groups of twelve, six groups of four, eight groups of three or twelve groups of two months. I used the letters R, A, N, I, L and O as an ending character to indicate which position months have in a group of six. This means the 1st, 7th, 13th and 19th months end with R, the 2nd, 8th, 14th and 20th end with A, etc. It's always clear that, for example, months ending with N or O are the last month of a trimester. Note that this way all the odd months end with consonants and all the even months end with vowels.

The rhythm of four is supported by the D in every fourth month's name. Finally, I made the fall and winter months (in the northern hemisphere) recognizable by putting a U in their names. Like my mother used to tell me I had to take vitamin pills "when the R is in the month", mothers on Mars will have the U.

All this fixed quite a few characters, but left even more open. I filled in those blank spots with the sole purpose to create nice, pronounceable names, each as much as possible with a character of its own. To strengthen this character every possible combination of two vowels has been used only once.

Of course, during the whole "design process" an infinite number of other decisions could have been taken. My set of decisions however resulted in the following colourful table:

season north/south     name syllables characters
spring/fall A D I R      2      4
B O R A      2      4
C O A N      2      4
D E T I      2      4
E D A L      2      4
F L O      1      3
G E O R      2      4
summer/winter H E L I B A      3      6
I D A N O N      3      6
J O W A N I      3      6
K I R E A L      3      6
L A R N O      2      5
M E D I O R      3      6
fall/spring N E T U R I M A      4      8
O Z U L I K A N      4      8
P A S U R A B I      4      8
R U D I A K E L      4      8
S A F U N D O      3      7
winter/summer T I U N O R      3      6
U L A S J A      3      6
V A D E U N      3      6
W A K U M I      3      6
X E T U A L      3      6
Z U N G O      2      6
first character in alphabetical order
last character r, a, n, i, l, o
odd months end with consonant
even months end with vowel
d indicates the first month in a group of four
u indicates fall/winter on northern hemisphere
double vowels double consonants
all other characters are "free"

I tried to avoid creating names that already meant something, but it appeared to be an illusion that it's possible to use names that don't yet exist anywhere in any language. A quick search on AltaVista showed that ADIR is an Israeli telecommunication company, EDAL is a real estate agency in Bulgaria and KIREAL is an entity currently residing in the 7th dimension who manifests himself as a 15th century Scottish sea captain through the trance mediumship of Fred Sterling. Like could be expected some of the longer month names didn't exist yet, at least not in cyberspace, although NETURIMA means something in Lithuanian (but what?).

These overlaps don't necessarily have to be a problem. Only if ULASJA means "son of a bitch" in Russian or if WAKUMI is the Japanese word for oral sex, it may be advisable to change those names. So, if you speak Tibetan, Swahili, Portuguese, Hungarian or any other language except Dutch and you discover any dubious words in my list of names, please contact me. It may lead to a revised version, hopefully before the first humans set foot on Mars.

Frans Blok, 22 Geor 12 / 24 January 1999, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Addendum

16 Idanon 12 / 17 March 1999

Last week I suddenly realized that if I introduce artificial names for the Martian months, I won't get away with retaining a traditional system, based on celestial bodies, for the names of the days. So I made a little addition to the Rotterdam naming system.

I felt there wasn't a need for a high level of sophistication like with the monthnames; in fact I couldn't think of many motives to play mathematical games. It made sense, however, to use alphabetical order for the first character of the names.

I also wanted to make a difference between working days and "weekends". Even though it's hard to make any assumptions about the organization of future Martian society and the division of work and leisure time, I am convinced that there will be  a necessity of collective moments of reflection and recreation. As a result the five working days have four characters and two sylables, plus the suffix -sol, and the two free days' names are one sylable and one character longer.

All other characters were chosen with the same criteria as in the monthname system: pronounceability and character. So here they are:

A

X

A

T

I

S

O

L

B

E

N

A

S

O

L

C

I

P

O

S

O

L

D

O

M

E

S

O

L

E

R

J

A

S

O

L

F

U

L

I

S

O

L

G

A

V

I

O

S

O

L

With Sol Solis/Sunday/Axatisol as the first day of the week we'll have to invent a new name for weekend; how about weekedge?

In practice the suffix -sol will be skipped often. I've never heard someone say "See you next Thurs" or "Bis naechsten Donners" but "See you next Erja!" sounds fine, as does "Tot Jovis".

Some shortcutters will even go further: the nice thing about the Rotterdam system is that names can be abreviated to one single character. Today, for example is c17i12, or Ciposol 17 Idanon 12. Well, the 17th is always a Ciposol, isn't it, so 17i12 may be enough.