The Hebrew exiles in Babylonia remained loyal to Judaism but were also influenced by the Babylonian culture, including borrowing the names of the months from the Babylonians.* Indeed, the names don’t have any Hebrew etymology. The rabbis tried to Hebraize Elul by interpreting it as an abbreviation: Ani Ledodi Wedodi Li — “I (Israel, Jewish people) am my Beloved’s (God), and my Beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). However, the Akkadian (Babylonian) name elulu means “bringing in (crops), harvest,” a cognate of the Aramaic ’alalta “crops, income”; me’alle shabbetha / yoma Tava, “entrance (Eve) of Sabbath / holiday.”
The month of Elul is followed by Tishre, whose name stems from Akkadian Tashritu “beginning (of the year),” a cognate of the Aramaic root sh-r-y, “begin; have breakfast.”
*English, by contrast, kept the pagan names of the weekdays: Sunday, Mo(o)nday, etc., even after the conversion to Christianity.
Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.