Les Guillotinés
The Name Police

The Republican or Revolutionary Calendar

Metro mural 19


Oh it was a heady time, before the heads began to roll, when idealism was high and the belief that the pure and beautiful logic of the Age of Enlightenment could become a reality. A bare year after the monarchy was abolished and the Republic declared, a sensible and non-religious calendar was proposed to the National Convention and adopted. The more reasonable decimal system was applied as much as was possible. 

There were twelve months to the year, but with new names, related to the seasons and agriculture:

  • Vendémiare, grape harvest
  • Brumaire, fog 
  • Frimaire, frost 
  • Nivôse, snowy 
  • Pluviôse, rainy 
  • Ventôse, windy 
  • Germinal, germination 
  • Floréal, flowering 
  • Prairial, pasture 
  • Messidor, harvest 
  • Thermidor, hot 
  • Fructidor, fruiting 


Each month had three weeks. A week consisted of ten days, also named, but not so poetically:

  • Primidi, first day
  • Duodi, second day 
  • Tridi, third day 
  • Quartidi, fourth day
  • Quintidi, fifth day 
  • Sextidi, sixth day 
  • Septidi, seventh day 
  • Octidi, eighth day 
  • Nonidi, ninth day 
  • Décadi, tenth day, and the day of rest 

However, to compensate for people losing saints' days of the old, Gregorian calendar, each day of the year was named. All of the names had to do with herbs, food, plants, animals, or farm tools. We will not list them all here. Suffice to say that day names ranged from Cresson (watercress) to Violette (violet) to Pioche (pickaxe). Tragically, some children were given these names. (Where were the name police when they were needed? see the post of 9 July, 2009)  Marie-Odile Mergnac writes about the names taken from this calendar in her book, Les prénoms du calendrier révolutionnaire, in the list of books to the right. The article on Wikipedia gives all of the day names and their translation into English. The francogene page on the calendar in English is helpful. The Fondation Napoléon site below has all of the names in a free download PDF file.

A day consisted of ten hours, an hour of a hundred minutes, and a minute of a hundred seconds. This was decimal time. This was reason. Nobody liked it (if only because workers now had three more days between days of rest), and the calendar was less and less used until Napoleon abolished it in 1806.

The calendar was in effect for about twelve years in most parts of the country. During that time, it was used on all birth, marriage and death records, and on all official documents. This can be hard on the genealogist, but there are good conversion tools on the web. The best that we have found in English is on the website of the Fondation Napoléon, which is a pretty cool site all together, if one is a Napoleon fan. With this converter, one can convert a date from Revolutionary to Gregorian and vice versa.

Finally, copies of Revolutionary Calendars can be bought from www.notrefamille.com. Click on "musée virtuelle" at the top, then type in the search box calendrier.


©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy