Egypt: Royal Titles for Kings of Egypt, A Feature Tour Egypt Story

Royal Titles for Kings of Egypt

By Marie Parsons

Sehetepibre was a man who had served under Senusret I during the Middle Kingdom period. On his funerary Stela he wanted to show praise and loyalty to his king, in this "hymn" style, by naming the King as equivalent to the gods.

"The King is Ka.
His utterance is Abundance.
The one whom he brought up will be somebody.
He is Khnum for all limbs,
The Begetter of the begotten.
He is Bastet who protects the Two Lands.
The one who praises him will be protected by his arm.
He is Sekhmet against those who disobey his orders."

The idea that the King of Egypt was connected to the Egyptian deities goes back beyond the Middle Kingdom, right to the beginnings of the kingship and of the royal titulary, to the early days of Dynastic Egypt (and perhaps earlier still). Before going further, it should be pointed out that "pharaoh", the most popular "title" of the Egyptian King, is not Egyptian at all. That is to say, the Egyptians did not call their King "Pharaoh" until very late in their history, and then only as non-Egyptians took up the word. "Pharaoh" is a Hebrew pronunciation of the Egyptian word, per-aa, meaning Great House, and was first used as a label for the king himself around 1450 BCE. But the title-word for the King was nisu, as can be seen for example in the Offering Formula, or hetep di nisu.

To the Egyptians, names were potent. Names represented aspects of a person and personality, and often more than one name was required to accomplish this. The concept is not difficult to understand when modern people remember that we hasten to name our own children properly, with names full of meaning, or to memorialize an ancestor. From around 2500 BCE, the King had up to five names. The five royal titles consist of four names, which the King assumed on the day of his accession, along with a fifth name, given to him at birth. Three of the names stress the kings role as god, two emphasize the perceived division of Egypt into two lands, both under his control.

The Horus names were the earliest of the King names


The Horus names were the earliest of the King names. They were painted on pottery vessels, palettes and maceheads, and carved on ivory and wooden labels and on the side of cliffs. The Horus name was always written within a serekh, a rectangle, bordered at the bottom by the kind of recessed paneling found on the facades of early mud-brick tombs and palaces, and topped by the falcon god Horus. This represented the belief from predynastic days that the king was the physical embodiment of Horus on earth. Osiris was believed to have been king of Egypt before his death, and so, as his son, Horus had inherited the kingship.

Narmer, Aha, Djer and their successors through the second dynasty all show their name signs with the serekh surmounted by the Horus falcon and thus most properly should be called Horus-Narmer, Horus-Aha, etc.

The Horus names from the end of Dynasty 0 into the first Dynasty demonstrate the warlike aspects of Horus and the King at the beginning of unification. Horus-Aha was "the Fighting Hawk", Horus-Den was "Horus who Strikes", even Horus-Narmer was "The Striking Catfish". During the 2nd Dynasty the emphasis shifted somewhat. Both the first and last kings of this dynasty may have faced periods of instability and renewal, probably reflected in their Horus names of Horus-Hetepsekhemwy, "The Two powers are at peace", and Horus and Set Khasekhemwy-nebwy-hetep-imef, or "Horus and Set the two powers have risen, the two lords are at peace within him".

hereafter the Horus names began to indicate a more theological viewpointHorus

Thereafter the Horus names began to indicate a more theological viewpoint, Horus in relation to other deities. For example, Horus Raneb (or Nebra) was "the Lord of the Sun"; Nynetjer, "Horus of divine nature", and "Sekhemib-perenmaat", or Horus strong-willed, champion of Maat. This trend continued into the 3rd Dynasty, with Netjerikhet, "Horus the most divine of the body", Sekhemket, "the most powerful of the body", and Khaba, "Horus has risen as a ba". With Sanakht, (also called Nebka) the king is Horus "the strong protector of mankind and the cosmos." Perhaps these names were an early precursor of the more complex theologies surely present within the Pyramid Texts of the 5th and 6th Dynasties.

The second name was called the Nbty


The second name was called the Nbty, or "Two Ladies"-name. Nbt was the Egyptian word for "Lady", pluralized by adding the "y". In this case, the Two Ladies referred to are the goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nekhbet of El-Kab in Upper Egypt, and Wadjet of Buto in the Delta, two of the most important cities of the Predynastic northern and southern chiefdoms. The Two Ladies name, or "He who belongs to the Two ladies" placed the king under the protection of Nekhbet and Wadjet and thus represented the close association with both regions of Egypt and the duality of the geographical balance of the Two Lands in the person of the king. Duality was an all-important concept in the Egyptian worldview." This reconciliation of opposites in order to maintain the established order was a fundamental role of kingship.

he nbty name was written after the vulture and cobra images of the two goddesses of Upper and Lower EgyptNebti

The nbty name was written after the vulture and cobra images of the two goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt. An ebony label from the Naqada tomb of Neith-hotep, possibly Ahas mother, shows the serekh of Aha facing a tent-like shrine enclosing the signs nbty mn. Perhaps if this is not the name of a king, it was the name of a shrine instead"the Two Ladies endure."

The nbty name was either used first in the reign of Semerkhet or in Anedjibs titulary. Anedjibs name was mr-p-bi3 and Semerkhets was iri-ntjr, "guardian of the god."

The third name was the "Golden Horus"- name. The origins of the Golden Horus name may be traced in royal inscriptions of the 1st and 3rd Dynasties and in the Palermo Stone. It was simply written with the hieroglyphic for gold when it was introduced in the Early Dynastic period, so perhaps it symbolized the kings divinity (gold was considered eternal and the gods were said to have skins of gold; gold therefore was a representation of divinity). Gold also symbolized the appearance of the rising sun.

It is also possible that the Golden name derived from the early connection of the god Set with the king. Set was the tutelary god of the city of Nubt or Naqada, the center of the gold trade. Set was also the patron deity of at least one king of the 2nd dynasty and possibly more.

An ivory label from Abydos shows Dens serekh, and next to that, the cobra, gold sign and ring of eternity, possibly comprising his Gold or Golden Horus name. On the Palermo Stone and its associated fragments, the names of Djer, Semerkhet and Nynetjer all show a cartouche and phrase incorporating the gold sign regularly formed part of the royal titulary, coming between the Horus name and the name of the Kings mother.

By the Middle Kingdom, the Horus name, the nebty title, and the Golden Horus name, were not as commonly used as the last two, the throne and birth names. In Dynastic Egypt, the kings would be distinguished by use of their throne name, also called the prenomen or nisu-bity name. Modern historians generally refer to the Kings by the nomen, or birth-name, distinguishing between kings of the same name by adding a Roman numeral as appropriate.

The "prenomen" or throne name, or nisu-bity, was also known as the "Lord of Two Lands"-name or the King of Upper and Lower Egypt as it later came to be called. This title, literally, "He of the sedge and bee" or the Dual-aspected King, may have symbolized the dual natures of human and divine resident within the kingship. The sedge plant is the symbol of Upper Egypt and the bee the symbol of Lower Egypt. It was composed at the Kings accession to the throne and by the Fourth dynasty invariably incorporated the name of the sun-god Ra (or Re.)

The nisu-bity name was first used in the reign of King Den

The nisu-bity name was first used in the reign of King Den, but it was Anedjib who was the first to have used the title and a second name of Merapbia, or mr-p-bi3, linked with it. Dens nisu-bity name was zmti (alternatively kh3sti) and appears on stone vessels found beneath the Step Pyramid and on royal seals. From the Middle Kingdom onward this was the name by which the kings were most commonly identified in inscriptions referring to buildings or boats named after the king. The later king lists refer to the King by the nisu-bity title.

The second name was the birth-name or "nomen". It was usually preceded by the titles Sa-Re or Son or Ra, or Neb-khau or Lord of Appearances or Crowns and always precedes the cartouche inside which it is written. The nomen, such as Amenemhat or Ramesses was generally the birth-name of the King, sometimes with another epithet added thereon such as "beloved of Amun" or "divine ruler of Thebes. This name is the one modern scholars use when mentioning a specific king. The king was now seen not as a manifestation of the god Horus, but as connected with the sun-god Ra. By the Middle Kingdom these were the two names most used. The prenomen and nomen names would be inscribed or written within a shenu, a double rope oval representing the royal enclosure and the kings overlordship of the cosmos. Huni, last king of the third dynasty, was the first to enclose his throne name within a shenu. The French named this shenu, with its peculiar shape, with their word for gun-cartridge, or cartouche. Even the foreign overlords hastened to give themselves proper titulary. Cambyses of Persia employed an Egyptian priest to compose a suitable throne name for him. And the Macedonian Ptolemies each had their very proper Egyptian throne names inscribed within cartouches.

Nbty Labels

Nbty Labels


  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt

  • The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt ed. By Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson

  • Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

  • Monarchs of the Nile by Aidan Dodson