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The kings of ancient Egypt had a number of names, just as I have a first name and a last name. By the Fifth Dynasty (about 2510 BCE), they had five names that were regularly used. Collectively, these names are known in English as the 'titulary', and in ancient Egyptian as nekhbet n:x b t:Z9 Y1:Z2). The five names in the titulary are:

  1. Horus name
  2. nebty name
  3. golden Horus name
  4. prenomen
  5. nomen

Although there are five names, they are not always used together. On monuments, for example, you are more likely to see the Horus name, the prenomen, and the nomen, than the nebty name or the golden Horus name.

Name 1: The Horus name

This name begins with the Horus title G5, and is often seen arranged in a column format in a box-like figure that represents the palace. This name signifies that the king is the reincarnation of the god Horus.

Name 2: The nebty name

This name, prededed by the nebty sign G16, signifies that the king is protected by the 'Two Ladies', the goddesses Nekhbet M22 b W24:t G14:V30 (the vulture-goddess of Upper Egypt) and Wadjyt M13 t I13 (the cobra-goddess of Lower Egypt).

Name 3: The golden Horus name

Again, the king is the god Horus, son of Osiris; the name is preceded by the golden horus G5:S12. It was in this name that the king would often express his individuality, taking a name that reflected some unique aspect of his divine nature.

Name 4: The prenomen

This 'throne name', enclosed in a cartouche and preceded by the nswt-bity sw:t L2:t, indicates that the ruler is King of Upper and Lower Egypt (the plant on the left side being the symbol of Upper Egypt, and the bee on the right side symbolizing Lower Egypt). More generally, this symbolizes that the king is the king of dualities: Upper and Lower Egypt, desert and cultivated lands, the human and the divine, and so forth. The kings took a pronomen when they ascended to the throne, and this is the name Egyptians generally used to refer to their king. Often, the prenomen includes the name Re N5.

Name 5: The nomen

Finally, this name, also enclosed in a cartouche but preceded by the sa-r' title N5^^G39, indicates that the king is the 'Son of (the sun god) Re', and is his heir on earth. This is the king's birth name; it is the name used today by Egyptologists, although they often have to add roman numerals to the name to distinguish among kings sharing the same nomen (for example, Rameses I, II, III, and so on all the way to XI).


In this example, we use the full titulary (all five names) of a Twelfth Dynasty king, Sesostris I:

G5 anx ms w t G16 anx ms w t anx*ms*G5:S12\75 sw:t L2:t < N5 xpr D28 > N5^^G39 < F12 s r:t z:n > di anx R11 S40 mi i N5 D{{0,0,100}}:t{{120,130,75}}:N17{{20,0,85}}

Horus, 'Life-of-births', Two Ladies 'Life-of-births', Horus of gold 'Life-of-births', King of Upper and Lower Egypt 'Kheperkare', Son of Re 'Sesostris', (may he be) granted life, stability, and wealth like Re eternally. (Gardiner, p.71)

Another example is the titulary of the Eighteenth Dynasty king Thutmosis III:

G5 E2 D40 N28 G17 R19 t:O49 G16 V29 M23 t{{0,0,100}} M17 M17 N5:Z1 mi m p*t:pt S42 G5:S12 F9:F9 D45:N28 Z3 sw:t L2:t < N5 Y5 xpr > N5^^G39 < G26 ms nfr xpr > O10 V30:t Aa15:f D28:t N33a\r1 U6 M17 M17

Horus, 'Strong-bull-arising-in-Thebes', Two Ladies 'Enduring-of-kingship-like-Re-in-heaven', Horus of gold 'Powerful-of-strength, holy-of-diadems', King of Upper and Lower Egypt 'Menkheperre', Son of Re 'Thutmosis beautiful-of-forms', beloved of Hathor, lady of the turquoise. (Gardiner, p.72)

The full titulary wasn't always used. Here is a different example of king Thutmosis III's names:

nTr nfr nb:N16:N16 sw:t L2:t < N5 Y5 xpr > N5^^G39 < G26 ms s > di anx D{{0,0,100}}:t{{120,130,75}}:N17{{20,0,85}}

The Good God, Lord of the Two Lands, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menkheperre, Son of Re, Thutmosis, given life eternally. (Davies, p.45)


As mentioned above, both the prenomen and the nomen names are enclosed in cartouches. (The cartouche (pronounced kar-TOOSH) is the oval figure with the vertical line on its right.) Originally, the cartouche was a drawing of a rope loop. In fact, the Egyptian word for cartouche is shenu V7 n:W24*Z7 V9, and it literally means 'that which encircles'. The cartouche symbolized that the king, whose name was inside the cartouche, was the ruler of everything encircled by the sun (that is, of everything on earth).

After the Middle Kingdom (after about 1674 BCE), cartouches weren't just for kings. The names of queens and of the royal children could be written inside cartouches as well. But the names of non-royals were never written in cartouches.

The word 'pharaoh'

Our word 'pharaoh' comes from the Egyptian phrase per-aa pr:aA meaning 'great house'. Originally, in the Old Kingdom, this phrase referred to the palace or the court, but not to the king. It appears that it wasn't until over 1000 years later (around 1340 BCE) that the phrase was first used to mean the king himself. This was in a letter to the heretic king Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Although this use became more common in the Nineteenth Dynasty, it is not until Dynasty XXII (about 400 years after Akhenaten) that we see it combined with a name as in Pharaoh Hophra of the Old Testament.

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