How August got its name is really no secret, but there are some that may not know how this month’s namesake came to be. A little history lesson: we’re going to travel back to the Roman Empire days.
The original Roman year had 10 named months Martius “March”, Aprilis “April”, Maius “May”, Junius “June”, Quintilis “July”, Sextilis “August”, September “September”, October “October”, November “November”, December “December”, and probably two unnamed months in the dead of winter when not much happened in agriculture.
The year began with Martius “March”. Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome circa 700 BC, added the two months Januarius “January” and Februarius “February”. He also moved the beginning of the year from Marius to Januarius and changed the number of days in several months to be odd, a lucky number.
After Februarius there was occasionally an additional month of Intercalaris “intercalendar”. This is the origin of the leap-year day being in February. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar (hence the Julian calendar and also naming the month of July after himself) changing the number of days in many months and removing Intercalaris or inter-calendar month.
After Julius’s grandnephew Augustus defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and became emperor of Rome, the Roman Senate decided that he too should have a month named after him. The month Sextillus (sex = six) was chosen for Augustus, and the senate justified its actions in the following resolution:
Whereas the Emperor Augustus Caesar, in the month of Sextillis . . . thrice entered the city in triumph . . . and in the same month Egypt was brought under the authority of the Roman people, and in the same month an end was put to the civil wars; and whereas for these reasons the said month is, and has been, most fortunate to this empire, it is hereby decreed by the senate that the said month shall be called Augustus.
Not only did the Senate name a month after Augustus, but it decided that since Julius’s month, July, had 31 days, Augustus’s month should equal it: under the Julian calendar, the months alternated evenly between 30 and 31 days (with the exception of February), which made August 30 days long. So, instead of August having a mere 30 days, it was lengthened to 31, preventing anyone from claiming that Emperor Augustus was saddled with an inferior month.