From the later half of the 5th Dynasty on, the royal titulary  , nxb.t, consisted of 5 titles or , rn wr,"great names". Each of the titles expresses a specific view-point on the Egyptian royalty and is discussed here. 

The Horus-name

The oldest known part of the royal titulary is the Horus-name Horus Name  , sometimes also called the banner-name or the Ka-name. It represents the king as the earthly embodiment of the god Horus, the divine prototype and patron of the Egyptian kings.

This name is ordinarily written within a rectangular frame, at the bottom of which is seen a design of recessed panelling, such as we find in the facades of early tombs and in the false doors of many private tombs. The Ancient Egyptian name for this facade was serekh. This name is often used in modern texts as well when speaking of the (palace) facade.

On the top of the serekh is perched the falcon of Horus, hence the appellation "Horus-name". In more elaborate New Kingdom examples Horus is wearing the double crown and is accompanied by the sun and a uraeus.

In the Early-Dynastic Period, the perched falcon of Horus was in fact part of the name of the king. Aha, for instance, was actually called Horus-Aha, "Horus who fights". 

This name was not the birth name of the king, but it was given to him when he ascended the throne. During the Early-Dynastic Period and the early Old Kingdom, it was the king’s official name. His name of birth would not appear in official documents. This has complicated the identification of many early kings mentioned in the king lists, where only the name of birth is mentioned.

Although it would continue to be used throughout the entire Ancient Egyptian history, it lost its importance to the prenomen en nomen from the end of the Old Kingdom on.   

The Nebti-name

The Nebti-name Nebti  shows the king in a special relation to two goddesses: the vulture-goddess Nekhbet of the Upper Egyptian cities of Elkab and Hierakonpolis and the cobra-goddess Uto of the Lower Egyptian city Buto. Both goddesses are the deified personification of Upper- and Lower-Egypt respectively, and as such, the Nebti-name denotes the king as "the one of Nekhbet (Upper-Egypt) and Uto (Lower-Egypt)", i.e. as the "one belonging to Upper- and Lower-Egypt".

Contrary to the Horus-name, which was already used by the Predynastic kings, the Nebti-name expresses the notion of a dual kingship. Den is the first king known to have assumed the Nebti-name. The use of this title by Den may perhaps indicate some governmental reforms that may have occured during this king's reign.

The Greek interpretation of this title as "Lord of Crowns" is secondary and perhaps the result of the temple scenes in which the two goddesses are shown while crowning the king.   

The "golden Horus name"

The meaning of the third part of the royal titulary, the "golden Horus name" Golden Horus   , is (even) more disputed. It represents the falcon god Horus perched on a symbol that usually represents "gold".

Based on the Greek equivalent of this title on the Rosetta Stone, which translates into English as "superior to (his) foes", it has been proposed that the hieroglyphs symbolised Horus as victorious over Seth, "the Ombite" (another possible reading of the hieroglyph on which the falcon is standing). This was, no doubt, the interpretation of Greek times, when the opposition between Horus and Seth was much more pronounced than in earlier times. For these earlier periods, however, the evidence may point in another direction.

If the "golden Horus name" symbolised Horus’ victory over his enemy Seth, one might expect that the names following this group should be aggressive in nature, but most of the time, those names are far from being bellicose. 

Both Kheops of the 4th Dynasty and Merenre of the 6th Dynasty have the title with two falcons over the "gold" sign. These two falcons are frequently used as a symbolic representation of the reconciled gods Horus and Seth. Should the hieroglyph over which Horus is perched represent Seth, we have here an example of Horus and Seth both being indicated as vanquishers of Seth. 

In a context dealing with the titulary of Thutmosis III that king says "he (Amun) modelled me as a falcon of gold". Thutmosis III’s co-regent Hatshepsut calls herself "the female Horus of fine gold". The concept of the golden falcon can be definitely traced back to the 11th Dynasty. An inscription of the 12th Dynasty describes the golden Horus name as the "name of gold". 

The notion of "gold" is strongly linked to the notion of "eternity". The burial chamber in the royal tombs of the New Kingdom was often called the "golden room", not (only) because it was stacked up with gold, but because it was there for eternity. The "golden Horus name" may convey the same notion of eternity, expressing the wish that the king may be an eternal Horus.   

The prenomen

The prenomen is the name that follows the title   "King of Upper- and Lower-Egypt". The oldest known example of this title is again dated to the reign of 1st Dynasty king Den, when it was often combined with the Nebti-name discussed above. It would, however, take until the end of the 3rd Dynasty before this title really came into use. It would, eventually, replace the Horus-name as most important official royal name. 

The prenomen itself almost always contained the name of the god Re. Typical examples are "pleasing to the heart of Re" (Amenemhat I) and "lord of the cosmic order is Re" (Amenhotep III). One of the first cases of Re as an element in a king’s name is with Khephren of the 4th Dynasty (Khaf-Re).

Every prenomen without Re dates before the 11th Dynasty. The systematic presence of the name of Re in the prenomen indicates that the prenomen was given to the king when he ascended the throne and that it put the king in a narrow relationship with the universal solar god Re. 

The title "King of Upper- and Lower-Egypt" can sometimes be followed by the phrase nb-t3.wj  "the Lord of the Two Lands", which sometimes even replaces it entirely. A queen can be called "the Mistress of the Two Lands".   

The nomen

The nomen is introduced by the epithet sA-rc  "son of Re". It was added to the royal titulary in the beginning of the 4th Dynasty. It was from that time on, that the royal titulary became established in the form discussed here.

The name in the cartouche was, as a rule, the king’s name of birth. It is almost the equivalent of our family name, for the 11th Dynasty affect the names Antef and Mentuhotep, the 12th Dynasty the names Amenemhat and Sesostris, the 13th Dynasty shows several kings of the name Sebekhotep and the 18th Dynasty consists almost entirely of ruler named Amenhotep or Thutmosis. 

Sometimes, the phrase nTr nfr  "the good god" is placed before the nomen of the king. Another title sometimes placed between "son of Re" and the actual nomen was nb-xa.w  "lord of the apparitions", sometimes also translated as "lord of the crowns". This title again confirms the narrow link between the king and the sun: the king’s apparition on the throne is compared to the rising of the sun on the Eastern horizon. 

From the later half of the Old Kingdom on, the principal name is the prenomen, and this is often found alone or accompanied only by the nomen. The Horus-name would serve only rarely for identification purposes.

Both names are almost invariably written within "cartouches" or "royal rings". The cartouche depicts a loop formed by a rope, the ends tied together so as to offer to the spectator the appearance of a straight line:  . Strictly speaking this loop should be round as it conveys the notions of "eternity" and "encompassing the entire creation". It is elongated and oval because of the length of the hieroglyphic names enclosed in it.

Occasionally, one may find the name of a god or goddess in a cartouche. This was especially the case for Osiris-Onnophris and Isis in the temple inscriptions of the Greek-Roman Period

Words and expressions dealing with royalty


The word normally used for "king" is  , abbreviated to . This same word is also used for "king of Upper-Egypt". Only rarely does one use  , "king of Lower-Egypt" to denote the king. Sometimes, the title "King of Upper- and Lower Egypt" can simply be translated as "king" as well.

Sovereign, Monarch and Ruler

Another word used in connection with the king is , which we generally translate as "sovereign" or "monarch". It is less frequent than , which means "ruler". 


To introduce the king’s name(s), the phrase "the Majesty of" is often found, for instance  "the Majesty of the King of Upper- and Lower-Egypt Usermaatre Setepenre" (Ramesses II).

As speaker the king often refers to himself as  "My Majesty" and in the 2nd and 3rd persons he is addressed as  "Your Majesty" and "His Majesty". Sometimes the king would refer to himself in the 3rd person: "His Majesty". The feminine counterpart of this expression,  "Her Majesty" was often used by 18th Dynasty Queens such as Ahhotep and Ahmes, but especially by the female king Hatshepsut.

The translation of the word "Majesty" is a mere makeshift. Its occurrence in a phrase such as  "in the Majesty of the Palace" does not refer to an actual physical person. The precise meaning of this word thus used is uncertain, though a word of similar appearance means "servant". 


We commonly refer to the kings of Ancient Egypt as "Pharaohs". This was in fact the word used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to denote the rulers of the Nile-country. This word is derived from the Egyptian  "the Great House", a word originally used to denote the palace or the court.

From the end of the 12th Dynasty onwards the health wish "may it live, prosper and be in health" was often added when referring to "the Great House", but still it seems to mean only the palace or the court.

The earliest certain instance where "the Great House" actually refers to the king is in a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), which is addressed to "Pharaoh, may he live, prosper and be in health, the Master".

From the 19th Dynasty onward it is used occasionally just as "His Majesty" might be used. We read "Pharaoh did such and such". In other words the term has become a respectful designation for the king, just as "the White House" sometimes refers to the person living in it rather than to the building itself. The final development was when a proper name was added to the title, as in "Pharaoh Hophra" of the Old Testament. The earliest known Egyptian example of this use is under one of the Shoshenks of the 22nd Dynasty

Formulae added to the name of a king

All words related to royalty, including the names of the Pharaohs, could be followed by the auspicious wish-formula  "may he (or it) live, prosper and be in health". This could be carried to the extreme, where almost every word referring to a king might be followed by this wish.

The royal cartouches were often followed by either a wish-formula such as  "living eternally" or  "bestowed with eternal life", or by a phrase which relates the king to a particular deity, for instance  "beloved by Amun-Re". 

Go to the list of kings in the chapter 'Ancient Egypt From A To Z' to learn more about some kings' individual royal titulary.

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Son of Re

The title 'Son of Re' was added to the royal titulary during the 4th Dynasty.

Djet stela with his name

The stela of Djet is a very fine example of a Horus-name written within a serekh.

The Prenomen of Sesostris I

The Prenomen of Sesostris I in the White Chapel at Karnak.

Golden Horus

An elaborate example of the Golden Horus symbol, from a Middle Kingdom pectoral.

Nebti name of Netjerikhet

The Nebti-name of the Horus Netjerikhet is combined with the title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" (later to become the introduction title of the prenomen) on the statue found in the Serdab of his mortuary complex at Saqqara.