On this site (and elsewhere in writings on the subject of Ancient Egypt), a name used to designate a person, god or place, may often be written in different ways. This can be disconcerting to the reader.
For example: Amenophis III is the same king as Amenhotep III; Ahmose, Ahmosis, Ahmes and Iahmes designate the same person; Thebes and Waset - or Uaset - all relate to the modern city of Luxor; Shu and Shw represent the same god; Thutmose, Tuthmosis, Thuthmosis, Thothmes are variations of the one kingly name, and so on.
There are several reasons for this.
Each hieroglyph used to record ancient Egyptian language for the most part corresponds to a single sound consonant, to two sounds, or to three.
In addition to such consonantal signs there are others, called semi-consonants. These sometimes have the value of a consonant, sometimes of a vowel.
In the table immediately above, the first two signs, ˁ and ȝ, are regarded as being pronounced approximately as ‘a’; those shown as ỉ (some writers use j) and y as ‘i’; and the small bird (a quail) as ‘w’ or ‘u’.
Before an Egyptian text may be translated it is usually necessary to transliterate it, that is, to transcribe it into a conventionally readable form by using alphabetic or phonetic symbols. In the process of making such a transliteration it has become customary to insert an ‘e’ wherever an unknown vowel might have occurred, in order to make modern pronunciation and reading of the text easier. For example, the transliterated word ‘nfr’ (‘beautiful’, ‘good’ ...) is usually written ‘nefer’.
As no-one today knows what ancient Egyptian actually sounded like, from school to school Egyptologists transcribe written texts differently, which accounts for some of the variations used for names, gods and places.
Much scholarly writing about ancient Egypt is published, and the publishers generally have their own rules. The celebrated American magazine KMT, for example, in its guidelines to authors, specifies that authors must follow the ‘house style’ for transcriptions.
In many cases, for historical reasons, it is Greek terms, and not Egyptian ones, that have come to be traditionally used to refer to persons, divinities or places. The differences between ancient Egyptian names and their Greek (or other) equivalents may be considerable. For example, few people would know of the town name of Mennefer, but Memphis, the same place, would be familiar to many.
The transliteration of Arabic words also gives rise to variants: for example, uadi or wadi, gebel or djebel, etc.
Apart from the above-mentioned problems of translation and the subjective choices made by authors, traditional or cultural inconsistencies arise. For example, all French-speaking authors use the term Amon to designate the chief god of Thebes (‘Thebes’ is a Greek name for the ancient Egyptian town of Uaset or Waset), yet no-one at all uses the form ‘Amonhotep’ (only Amenhotep or Amenophis, see below).
English-speakers introduce their own variations of this god’s name, with Amun, Amen, and occasionally Amon too — probably influenced by the writing of such Greek authors as Herodotus – but again, never Amunhotep. Thus, one may read that King Amenhotep III is ‘under the protection of his father, Amun'…
The following are some common spelling variations:
The sun god: In English the name of the sun god may be Ra or Re.
Maat: Maat is the name of the goddess of balance, of the righteous order of the world. The goddess’s name (spelt with a capital M) must not be confused with that of the principle she incarnates: maat (with a lower-case m).
Toth or thoth: Thoth is the Greek form of the Egyptian name ... Djehuty! The tomb of Djehutymes could equally be called tomb of Tuthmosis or Thotmes. The original Egyptian form was not used for the ‘Thutmosid’ kings (Thutmosis I to IV) and one has never seen this royal lineage referred to as the ‘Djehutymes-osids’.
Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure: These three names tend to be significant only to those with some special knowledge. The Greek-based equivalents on the other hand: Cheops, Khephren (or Chephren) and Mykerinos are recognisable to many more as the names for the three great pyramids of the plateau of Giza (or Gizeh, Guiza ...)
Seti, Sethi, Sety or Sethy I:Few agree on which of the forms the name of the second ruler of the 19th dynasty should correctly take.
Ramses II: As for the third ruler of the 19th dynasty, should he be known as Ramses, Ramesses or by his Egyptian name, (Pa) Ramessu?
'o' or 'e'?The letter ‘o’ sometimes replaces ‘e’ in transliteration, for reasons unknown.You can write that Djoser or Djeser built the step pyramid on the site of Saqqara (Saqqarah, Sakkara ...); and hotep or hetep is the word for ‘peace’, ‘rest’.
Amenhotep or Amenophis?
The alternative forms Amenhotep and Amenophis deserve special mention as one of them is based on an error.
Jan Quaegebeur has written on this subject:
Amenophis or Amenhotep? The use of the name Amenophis to designate several kings of the eighteenth dynasty (and a deified person) that other works call Amenhotep is disconcerting. In fact, this name meaning ‘Amon is satisfied’ (Imen-htp) and was pronounced approximately as Amenhote (p); The Amenophis form rests on an error in the transmission of the work of Manetho (a priest in the Ptolemaic era) by the Greeks. Since Amenophis actually transcribes the divine (and private) name ‘Amon to Opet’, which Egyptologists often render by Amenemope, it is better to call these kings of the 18th dynasty Amenhotep.” Jan Quaegebeur, Dossiers Histoire et Archéologie N° 101, p. 10, January 1986