February, the month of valentines and Oscars. Like the other names of months in the Gregorian calendar, February has Roman origins. The ancient “day of purification,” dies februatus (februare means “to purify”), observed on the fifteenth day of the month (the ides of February), was part of the festival Lupercalia or Februatio. (Februa were thongs made from the skins of sacrificed animals; women were struck with these thongs to promote fertility.)

Though Saint Valentine of Rome was martyred on February 14 in the third century, it wasn’t until the end of the fifth century that the Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I—who also abolished the Lupercalia.* (The Catholic Church recognizes three martyrs by the name of Valentinus, and legends abound but few facts are known about their lives.)

Just as the origins of Valentine’s Day are shrouded in the mists of time, the origin of the nickname “Oscar” for the golden statuette officially named the Academy Award of Merit is unclear. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the nickname official in 1939.)

Note that the name Oscar remains capitalized, as does Academy Award (both are trademarks). But you send a valentine to your sweetheart (not a Valentine), just as you make a mark on a page (not a Mark).

“Meryl Streep has won three Oscars.”

“Do you plan to watch the Academy Awards this year?”

“Will you be my valentine?”

“I got a valentine from a secret admirer.”

Of course, if your name happens to be Valentine, then it would be capitalized. So, you might sign a card:

“With love, from your Valentine.” (Or from your Romeo or your Lucretia or whatever “your” name is.)

Valentine’s Day, like other holidays, is capitalized:

“I’ll send you a card for Valentine’s Day.”


*The Catholic Church removed the Feast of Saint Valentine from the liturgical calendar in 1969.