Ambrose Li

Names of months in the old lunar calendar

(updated )

I’ve not self-identified as a “Chinese Canadian” for more than a year and a half already. So, a few months ago, when I tried to pick up where I’d left off in the organizer project, I felt disconnected and uneasy the whole point of the project was reversing the experience of using a “Chinese” calendar, but I no longer identified as “Chinese”.

So when I found people agreeing that “Lunar New Year” might be more “preferred” than “Chinese New Year” (I don’t really agree, by the way) I thought one way I could get myself to continue with the project would be maybe as much as possible, to take out the word “Chinese”.

Four years ago, when I made my first prototype (pictured) for Publications+,[Note 1] I had originally planned to have a different illustration for each lunar month, each illustrating a name of the month.‍[Note 2] I managed to draw all the pictures but they never made it into the prototype. I so underestimated how much time I needed that I ran out of time.‍[Note 3]

Since we’re now all in lockdown and I have, in theory, half a year to plan the next one, I thought maybe I should revisit the idea, and I decided I should include more than the Chinese culture. I googled a bit on how these months used to be named in both Chinese and Japanese to try to come up with a set that works in both and found that things aren’t pretty.

For example, according to one Taiwanese page I found, if I choose names that are supposedly named after flowers, the twelve months would be Willow, Apricot, Peach, Pagoda-tree, Pomegranate, Lotus, Balsam, Sweet Olive, Chrysanthemum, Second Summer, Reeds, and Plum.‍[Note 4] Cross-referencing these to a few Japanese sites I found, the only common names are Sweet Olive (month 8), Chrysanthemum (9), Second Summer (10), and maybe Peach (3). Worse, some names are ambiguous; for example Plum is month 12 in Chinese but month 5 in Japanese.‍[Note 5]

The very old list from Progress Towards Correctness[Note 6] works in both, but unfortunately I wouldn’t know how to draw these; many of the words are so old I don’t even know what they mean.

Coming up with a list that works in both is going to take more work.


  1. A pop-up event organized by the OCAD U Student Press. It was really more of a sales event than an exhibition.
  2. A name, not the name, because each month has more than a dozen different names.
  3. This was part of why when I did the next prototype I decided to learn how to semi-automate it by generating XML from data files.
  4. 月份” [Months], accessed February 19, 2021, https://​www​.newton​.com​.tw/​wiki/​%E6%9C%88​%E4%BB%BD. There’s circumstantial evidence this site is not truly Taiwanese but might have roots in Mainland content.
  5. 陰暦における月の異称” [Variant names of months in the lunar calendar], accessed February 19, 2021, http://​www​.natubunko​.net/​kotoba01​.html. Peach (桃月) isn’t even listed here as an option, but it’s listed (pretty far down the list) in 陰暦和風月名” [Japanese-style names for lunar months], accessed February 19, 2021, http://​shitsurai​.sakura​.ne​.jp/​saijiki/​002/​05​_​01main​.html.
  6. 釋天” [Explaining Heaven], in 爾雅 [Progress Towards Correctness], accessed February 19, 2021, https://​ctext​.org/​er​-ya/​shi​-tian/​zh.


  • #organizer project