king lists

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Perhaps the most common thing that people want to know when they travel is how the pharaohs are named and how to recognize their names on the walls.

Most of us are used to seeing the names of pharaohs in the oval, called a "cartouche". Cartouche is not an egyptian word, it is French, and means 'cartridge'

In the Egyptian culture (as in many cultures) names were thought to have real power, and a person's "real" name was often protected and not shared. People, and especially kings, were known by a series of throne names and formalized epithets and gods were referred to in stylized phrases.

Epithets were often used to identify people, to differentiate them from people with the same name. Just as you might say, "John in Accounting" and "John the delivery guy" to talk about the two Johns in your office, Egyptians used similar tags. You might say "John, son of Joe" or something similar. This is the same concept that is used in a number of different cultures. Scandinavians are used to John Anderson (John, son of Anders), Irish to John O'Shea, or even the common English custom of adding an occupation to a name to differentiate. Look at all the Bakers and Coopers that abound.

Egyptian has some specific forms that might be used. "born of" would be used with the mother's name, while "made by" or "of his body" used the father's name.

Additionally, like we call James, Jimmy, and Ronald, Ron, Egyptian also has dimnumitives and "pet names". For example, we know that Amenhotep is often shortened to Amenyi, and Hathor is often Hunero (not much shorter, but then again, Billy is not much shorter than William). There is a specific instance of nicknames being used, as well, as in "Simut say of him Kyky."

"Mose" simply means "born of". We recognize that Ramesses is simply a royal variation of Ra-mose, or 'Born of Re'. I find it interesting that biblical stories picked up the name of Mose and have tried to associate great meaning to it. It would be like calling your son, 'Son'.

One of the weirdest things I found is that oftentimes, many children were named the same thing in a family. I can't tell if this is a problem with translation, or if they really did have a series of children names Ramose. Given the likely rate of mortality for children, I wouldn't be surprised if they simply reused the name for successive children. Seems kind of harsh, but I suppose it might have been possible. In any case, they most likely assigned qualifying bits to the names -- like 'John the Elder' (using Aa, 'Great') or 'Little John' (using nedjes, 'small').

Most people had a public, "beautiful name" - ren-nefer.

Naming Conventions
I have a hard time with the concept that people were actually called "Born of Re" or "Re is pleased" (Ramose or Rahotep), I don't think that the everyday egyptians really thought of the names like that, just like we don't see Christian or Jesus as particularly "meaningful" names. I mean, we don't have the exaggerated idea that each name must have a meaning. For example, Robin means Shining One or somesuch. I don't go around proclaiming my name to mean Shining One, just as I don't think that an average everyday egyptian actually looked on their names as having some sort of extra meaning. Ramose was simply Ramose, Nefertiti was Nefertiti. We have added the additional translation of their names because was are trying to understand the entirety of the culture.

For me, it's the equivalent of deciding that my name, Robin has some sort of intrinsic meaning based on the way it is written -- Ro-bi-n, for example: a greek letter Ro, bi signifying duality, and n meaning the end of. It's a plausible --if a bit ridiculous-- theory (and archaeologists in a few thousand years may be doing just that!), but is it really valid? I'm not sure. It just seems a big contrived to me.

I'm quite willing to accept that the naming of kings and other royalty had special rules -- perhaps they really were addressed with the whole laundry list of titles and names that were designed to evoke a specific response from the people. Not sure. Then again, I'm not an expert by any means, so it's probably a moot point.

Personal Names
Names often contained holidays, or references to festivals. For example,

  • 'em-heb' means 'in festival', and someone might be named 'hor-em-heb', meaning 'Horus is in festival', probably referring o the time of the person's birth.
  • 'em-wiya' means 'in his/her sacred barque' (ie, on the way to the festival
  • 'en-heb-sed' means 'in his/her jubilee', the huge festival that occurred in he thirtieth year of a pharaoh's reign.

Often, names are used dramatically, too, in some of the writings we have deciphered. For example, a villain in a story may be called Mesedsure (Ra hates him) to emphasize his horribleness, when his real name probably was Meryre (Ra Loves Him). Another example is the name Bin-Em-Wase ('Evil in thebes') who was probably Kha-em-wase in real life. Since names had power and meaning, associating a name that brought down the wrath of the gods, or their hatred, was a horrible fate indeed.

Anglicized spelling of egyptian names is a bit questionable. The common convention is to add 'e' between the consonants, since Egyptian is written without any vowels. This is not always the case, and many egyptologists stick with other historic spellings (usually based on greek). So, for example, the supreme deity is either spelled 'Re' or 'Ra' (it seems to be pronounced the same, regardless).

It is common to write certain signs at the beginning of words, even if they are commonly pronounced last. This is commonly seen as 'honorific transposition' -- the putting of deities names first in common names, as a sign of respect. How do we know this occurs? For example, the name of a pharaoh is common written with the signs in the order "usert-sen". Usert is the name of the goddess, and is so written first. However, the same pharaoh is referred to in greek as Sesostris or Senusret, which shows that the common pronunciation put the 'usert' part last (remember that the greek names used by Heroditos and Manetho were usually phonetically reproduced. They "greek-ified" the sounds of the name. The name was technical sen-usert, or, Man dedicated to Usert', regardless of whether the signs were in that order.

Multiple versions of a name were also ok, based on this idea of a honorific hierarchy. If more than one God's name was used, they were in order of importance. Re came before Ptah, who comes before Usert. The name that is written Re-Maat-Neb is clearly pronounced (based on our other sources) as Neb-maat-re.

Even simple names may have more than one version, depending on the writer -- standardized spelling was no an idea accepted by the Egyptians. For example, Tiy may also show up as Ti, Tiyi, Tiye, Tey, Tia, Tuia, Tjuia, Thuya, depending on the source.

Many of the names rely on Greek and Latin pronunciations, we derived the naming and spelling rules from these non-egyptian sources. For example, Akkadian kings names were written phonetically, so we have more clues as to how the formalized spelling/writing of the king's name was done.


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r. fingerson