What’s In An Egyptian Name?

The latest issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies is out. Of the four papers, only Steve Vinson’s “The Names ‘Naneferkaptah,’ ‘Ihweret,’ and ‘Tabubue’ in the ‘First Tale of Setne Khaemwas’” struck me as abnormally interesting. Other folks, with other abnormal interests, may have a different opinion. Here’s the first paragraph of Vinson’s paper to whet your appetite.

It has often been observed that personal names in ancient Egyptian fiction can convey or suggest important information about the characters who bear them – their identities, their roles, and their destinies. Of course, the creation or use of such significant names (sometimes referred to as “charactonyms”) is not unique to Egyptian belles lettres, but is rather an obvious and common technique that has been adopted by many authors in many literature. In Egypt, however, the name (rn) of an individual was conceived of as an integral part of the personality, closely connected to both social identity and survival in the next world; similarly, the name(s) and epithets of a king or divinity expressed crucial aspects of such an entity’s fundamental nature and cosmic significance. Thus, in an Egyptian story – as also in poems, hymns, and ritual texts, which frequently contain puns on, or glosses to, names – the exploitation of the name for literary effect has the potential to create and reveal meaning in an especially powerful way. [citations deleted]

I haven’t read the whole paper as yet but I sure plan to.
Several of the reviews also look interesting but not abnormally so.
Update: November 7, 2009
Fixed typo.

One thought on “What’s In An Egyptian Name?”

  1. “‘In Egypt, however, the name (rm) of an individual […]'”
    Typo alert: That should read rn with the letter en. And as for character names, classical Greek tales are replete with them.
    In fact, what I find even more fascinating is how an ancient language may take a foreign name and, through the use of a kind of “bilingual pun”, naturalize the name into a seemingly native name with a clever meaning that still relates to the adopted story. This then is a pesky little problem for the etymologist, as you can see.

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