My friend Mary B. at the Museum told me that the ladies who do the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts had a question about ancient Egyptian names (which came up in their Unearthed in 2015, part 1.) Apparently a bona fide Egyptologist had yet to furnish an answer to their question… so, ladies… hope this helps!
Regarding Raneferef and Neferefre (or Neferefra)…. There is this thing with the ancient Egyptian written language called ‘honorific transposition.’ This means that when the name of a god or king is a component of a person’s name, it is put at the front of all the hieroglyphs making up that name (regardless of it being syntactically in the wrong place). The god (or king) is being honoured by having first place, if you will.
To be read in very short rows from right to left, starting at the top. Reed leaf+game board+water squiggle = Amun ; half circle+quail chick+half circle = tut ; Egyptian cross with loop = ankh (the name is followed by a title, which you need not worry about!)
As an example, let’s look at the name of Tutankhamun—a pharaoh whose name includes that of the god Amun. Everybody knows Tutankhamun. Tut. Ankh. Amun. If you look at the hieroglyphs that spell his name, you’ll see that it is actually spelled Amun. Tut. Ankh. (Read the caption to know what sign is what.)
He was named after the god Amun and even though in the short sentence the name Amun should be at the end, it is moved up to honour that god. (Tutankhamun means ‘living image of Amun’.)
Now, do the names above make sense if I tell you that the Fifth Dynasty King listed above was named after the god Ra? (Also spelled Re.) Ra. Nefer. Ef is really Nefer. Ef. Ra.
As for Queen Khentkawes… her name can be spelled Khentkaus… because the sound U and W are very close. It can also be spelled Khentakawes or even Khentakawess! Egyptian hieroglyphs are primarily phonetic. It is also a language where the vowels are seldom written (which is the case with Hebrew, for example). When you’re stuck with only the consonantal roots of words, you need help trying to pronounce these words today…. So Egyptologists will stick the vowel E in between consonants. You’ll inevitably end up with varied spellings of the same name. An example: Ramses. Can also be spelled Rameses. Even Ramesses! The consonantal root is r ms s… bring on the vowels!
There is also the ancient Greek version/rendition of Egyptian names, which is very confusing. In English, we tend to use the Egyptian version of these names: take for example, Khufu… (the sounds fit with the hieroglyphs) but in French we prefer Cheops (this is how the Greeks referred to the king who built the Great Pyramid). Senwosret (also spelled Senusret) versus the Greek Sesostris! Amenhotep versus Amenophis!
Plus, it seems that modern languages adapt Egyptian names, too. Don’t go look for Nefertiti in a German book! You’ll find her name spelled Nofretete instead.
Are you confused yet? Aren’t hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian language fun? (Insert grin here!)
If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian language for fun, I suggest you take a look at one of the world’s most ancient and noble blogger’s posts on Circa, the North Carolina Museum of Art’s blog. Fefi is sharing secrets about hieroglyphs… which can be read from right to left, left to right and vertically downwards (not from the bottom).
Check out Fefi’s posts:
Learn Hieroglyphs with FefiViper, viper, reed leaf, nobleman
Name or Nickname? That is the question?
Write Your Name in Hieroglyphs