Monday, July 27, 2009

Tutankhamun's "other" name (Diana Gainer)

The Word Geek managed to see King Tut at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco this past weekend, thanks to her very generous sisters. A previous column discussed this former pharaoh’s main name, namely Tutankhamun (or Tutankhamen, if one prefers that spelling), and how it used to be Tutankhaten. This time around, the discussion will focus on his other name, the one he took when he ascended to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt. This is the one which is written with a circle, a scarab beetle, three little prongs, and a large half circle with the flat part on top. Having been to the exhibit, the Word Geek is puzzled by this no longer and got to see it many times really big, so her bad eyesight is no longer a problem. Neither is her lack of access to her good Egyptian dictionary, which had previously caused her to read the last sign incorrectly.

This second name or throne name of Tut’s is Nebkheperure. The neb tidbit is that big half-circle which is written last due to its total lack of prestige. The kheper or hpr (and the “h” really ought to have a scoop beneath it) is the name of the dung beetle. That is to say, the scarab! He was a minion of the sun disk or else an avatar, depending on who is telling the story. The three little prongs are the “u” (or “w” if one wishes to be slightly more accurate), sometimes a sign of a plural, but perhaps not in this case, since there’s only one Tut. The circle at the beginning of this name was not supposed to have lines across it as depicted in an earlier version seen by the Word Geek, in which case it would be the same sound that the beetle’s name started with. No, it’s the sun god, Ra (or actually just the first letter with a superfluous vowel so it’s pronounceable, Re). It should ideally be a red circle with a dot in the middle, sort of a belly button. Since it’s a deity’s name, it gets to go first. And since the beetle is a deity’s minion, he gets to go in second place. But poor, old nb is nothing but perhaps an old basket and is thrown in last, even though it’s actually pronounced first. So it goes with the irregularity of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

See the above page for the full story.

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