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In other languages, the sun and the moon have definite genders: in French and many other romanic languages le soleil (the sun) is male and la lune (the moon) is female. In German and other germanic languages die Sonne is female and der Mond is male.

What is the `poetic' gender of the sun and the moon in English?

I found a number of threads on yahoo answers (great...), where it is claimed the sun is male and the moon is female in English, for example here.

In addition to trustworthy references, I would appreciate answers with examples from children's literature, fairy tales, fables or poems.

  • Although English doesn't actually use genders, this raises a good point in the implied genders of them for poetic use. Because of this, if you really wanted to, you could probably assign them to whatever you wanted if you were writing about them as such. – Blubberguy22 Jul 10 '15 at 13:42
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    This is a question and answer site so how will a "correct" answer come from our examples from "children's literature, fairy tales, fables or poems."? You might want to try Google Books for examples. books.google.com/… – Kristina Lopez Jul 10 '15 at 14:06
  • @Kristina Lopez: I gave "children's literature, fairy tales, fables or poems" as examples of contexts where this might matter. Also, I tried to indicate that I am trying to get a more convincing answer (which is supported by plausible references, facts and/or examples) than what I found so far. In German, the sun and moon are usually anthropomorphized as woman and man, respectively, according to their grammatical gender. Seeing the opposite genders attached to sun and moon looks odd to me as a native German speaker. So I was curious whether such a distinction exists in English. Also, an answ – user128660 Jul 10 '15 at 14:27
  • Sorry for posting here, I lost my other account when my browser crashed – user128660 Jul 10 '15 at 14:28
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    Good question! However ELU isn't geared towards answering such a question. English isn't gendered, and any suggestions, from literature or not, rely heavily on preference. I advise you check out SE Writers: writers.stackexchange.com – John Samps Jul 10 '15 at 14:50
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As already pointed out by Peter Shor, The Walrus and the Carpenter, which might exemplify children's literature (including, of course, the child inside everyone of us), has genders for the sun and the moon as quoted by yourself.

Etymonline, if you count it as trustworthy, confirms the Germanic genders for the sun (feminine) and the moon (masculine) in Old English.

The flip of genders for these two (or rather, the loss of genders and the establishing of a so-called poetical gender) came later, as claimed here. Quote:

The modern English poetic usage when personifying the sun and moon has taken up the French or Romance gender for sol (masculine) and luna (feminine), instead of retaining the Germanic grammatical genders where the sun is feminine and the moon masculine.

(Ragnhild Ljosland, Masculine and Feminine in Dialect)

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I believe the sun is usually male and the moon usually female. For example, from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter,

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him," she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

If the genders were reversed, I am sure that it would be much less disconcerting to English speakers than if they were reversed in German or French, where they actually have grammatical gender. When this poem is translated into German – Das Walroß und der Zimmermann – the moon and sun switch genders; whereas I would be surprised if their genders were switched in anything translated from German to English.

And in fact, it seems that Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings, makes the moon male and the sun female. See this question. And most readers aren't greatly disconcerted by this shift. One wonders what genders are assigned in the French translation le Seigneur des anneaux.

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    And in fact, Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale What the Moon Saw (translated from Danish) has a male moon. So while the moon is traditionally female in English literature, it clearly isn't very strongly associated with either gender. – Peter Shor Jul 10 '15 at 18:27
  • Mark Williams once put a locomotive driver on the spot by asking "Is the 'Duke of Gloucester' a 'she'?" (The answer was "Definitely!") But Thomas the Tank Engine has special status. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '17 at 10:59
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Both pairings are adequate, since Sun-female/Moon-male is the original Germanic reading and Sun-male/Moon-female is the Latin(ate) version. Provided that you have some knowledge of why you are picking the one or the other, both are usually fair; the only exceptions would be when you have a strong thematic connection to Ancient Germanic/otherwise Germanic/Anglo-saxon/Old and Middle English up to the Renaissance, where you'd have to go with the first (eg. if you're translating from the Exeter Book you will have to write about the moon and his beams), or when you have to do with the classical Greek or Latin tradition, when translating from a Romance context, or when referencing a Neolatin-originated tradition (eg. if you write a follow-up to Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso", Astolfo will fly to the moon because she keeps lost objects).

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I'm not sure about the sun, but I have seen references to the moon as "mother moon" (which implies that it's considered as a female).

It's not exactly children's literature (although it may look like it), but a reference I can give you is "The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle" by Patrick Rothfuss.

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The sun is referred to as male in the nursery rhyme 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On'

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    This is not a nursery rhyme according to the WIkipedia entry, but a song written for an adult audience. Moral: quote sources in answers rather than making bare affirmations. – David Sep 26 '17 at 13:02
  • We're looking for answers. An answer with an example is a great idea (the asker even wanted examples), but an example without an answer isn't terribly useful. An answer should answer the question as an expert would, with explanation, context, and any supporting facts that are necessary to show that it is right. Personal opinions, speculation, anecdotes, and general discussion are welcome in English Language & Usage Chat. – MetaEd Sep 26 '17 at 15:45

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