Answer for Stuff You Missed in History Class

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 SesostrisAmenhotep 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

Fan mail for Fefi!

While he was on ‘vacation’ (and his ghost writer at conferences abroad–more on that later),  Fefi, the NCMA’s most noble and ancient blogger, received fan mail. An avid reader enquired about Fefi’s well-being and made voice offerings of bread and beer so that our favourite ancient scribe would have the energy to continue his hieroglyphic blog posts. (Seriously! I’m not kidding… the Museum received an email for Fefi and it was a brilliant missive. I loved it!)

A post–written by yours truly and made available a couple of days ago–adds to Fefi’s lessons on Egyptian hieroglyphs. You can read What’s in a Nickname? on Circa. It should keep you (and our avid reader) satisfied until Fefi resumes his blogging activities!

Mini interview with Fefi

Members of the NCMA receive e-mails about exhibitions, programs and events as well as notices about what’s going on with the collections and galleries via the Museum blog, Circa.  In the last couple of Circa-related e-mails, members have been introduced to staff bloggers, who answered a couple of questions so you can get to know them better. Guess who was featured this time around?  Our dear ancient Egyptian friend, nobleman and scribe, Fefi!

Below is a screen shot of the e-mail I received (I am a member of the museum). The links in the image are not functional, so I have included them at the bottom of this post.

Fefi, the NCMA's most ancient and noble blogger!

Fefi, the NCMA’s most ancient and noble blogger!

Here are the links mentioned in the mini bio, latest posts: Viper, Viper, Leaf, Nobleman and Name or Nickname? That is the question! Both of these have been featured on An Archaeologist’s Diary. Actually, all of Fefi’s work has been featured!

As for Fefi’s favourite work of art in the NCMA collection, you will find it here: A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms. Undoubtedly the meat stall reminds him of something like this (check out the NCMA painting and compare):

Pile of offerings with different cuts of meat (with leeks and bread) on a Middle Kingdom stela at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City (the paint is probably modern).  I took this picture in 2009.

Pile of offerings with different cuts of meat (with leeks and bread) on a Middle Kingdom stela at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City (the paint is probably modern). I took this picture back in 2009.


Fefi and Khnumti

In his third lesson, Fefi introduces us to his buddy Khnumti (hieroglyphically speaking, of course) and poses an interesting question about his name and nickname. Read the NCMA’s ancient scribe’s latest post,  Name or Nickname? That Is the Question!, and meet Khnumti.

Fefi strikes back!

The NCMA’s most ancient blogger has posted his second lesson on Circa. This time, he’s helping us decipher the spelling of his name. Go check out the post and learn a few hieroglyphs!

The NCMA editors tell me that Fefi’s first post is actually the most viewed one on the Museum blog! Not bad for a dead guy, huh?

Learn Hieroglyphs with Fefi

There is a new and fun post on Circa… written by no less than an ancient Egyptian nobleman who once was a scribe! (Or perhaps not… I might have something to do with this.)  Click on the image below to be transported to the NCMA blog and enjoy learning hieroglyphs with Caroline, I mean Fefi.

Screen shot of Fefi's first post on Circa, the Museum Blog.

Screen shot of Fefi’s first post on Circa, the Museum Blog.