Living in Maat
The “Pharaonization” of Egyptians
THE NAME OF "EGYPT"
When Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet he pondered on the violent, even deadly feud between the noble Capulet and Montague families and, more particularly, their obsession with their “good name.” This prompted the English bard to ask: “What’s in a name?” And then gave his opinion by adding, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”1 In other words, Shakespeare concluded that a name was not so important but rather the essence of the object. But this was not so for the ancient Egyptians; for them the name of a person or an object was the most important aspect, and it was crucial to the very nature and meaning of that person or object. This is because ancient Egyptian sages were not philosophers; they were magicians and understood the magical power of a name. They carefully and intently observed the world around them, studied what they saw, and when they felt they fully knew and understood what they saw, they gave it a “name.” The name became a talisman that encapsulated all the meaning and qualities of the object. Thus when a name was uttered, it evoked all the power of that object and caused a strong emotional and mental reaction with the receiver. Think of the name of your first lover or the name of your best friend. Think of the name of the country, town, or neighborhood where you feel the most happy and safe. Such names become talismans imbued with an invisible, immaterial, and immeasurable energy that impacts on the human mind and unleashes strong memories, emotions, and thoughts. In this way names are not just mere sounds to identify an object but rather become magical invocations to reach the soul within. The ancient Egyptians were the masters of this form of magical thinking.
Among the many peculiarities of the ancient Egyptians--not least their very deep interest in the afterlife--was the importance they placed on naming correctly an object or a place. Nothing could be more insulting, more desecrating, more damning than to have one’s name soiled, defaced, removed, or forgotten. This was regarded as one of the worse abominations that could be inflicted on a person.
Unlike modern society, the ancient Egyptians recognized the true importance of the name (Egyptian ren). Giving a name to a newborn was therefore a sacred act for any Egyptian parent. Speaking or writing his/her ren gave “existence” to a person, both in life and for eternity--so long as that name was perpetuated in eternal stone, to be read and uttered by devout descendants. To chisel out or erase a name was to kill a person in the afterlife. To forget a name was to make it non-existent. To the Egyptian mind, the ren was as important as the soul because, through the continuing memory of that name, the being--or on a grander scale the civilization bearing that name--continued to exist beyond time.
Bearing this in mind, one would have thought that the ancient Egyptians would have carefully chosen the name of their country. Today the world refers to the very long and narrow fertile strip of the Nile Valley running from the First Cataract in the south to the shores of the Mediterranean in the north as “Egypt.” This name is universally known in the Western world and many erroneously take it as having been the original name. Furthermore the people that inhabit it today are regarded--as indeed they, too, regard themselves--as “Arabs.” Thus it often comes as a surprise that when considered from a historian’s and anthropologist’s viewpoint, calling this country “Egypt” and its people “Arabs” is incorrect. In view of the principal theme of this book, namely to define the true identity of the Egyptians, it is very important to know the legitimate nomenclature for this country and its people. Egyptians, especially today in these troubled times, are in dire need to understand who and what they are or, at the very least, to be aware of their true legacy and ancestral identity.
It is known that the name “Egypt” was actually coined not by the native dwellers of the Nile but by foreigners, Greeks colonists to be precise, sometime in the fourth century BC. It is, in fact, the corrupted derivative of the Greek name Koptos, itself also a corrupt derivative from the name Gebtu of an important town in Upper (southern) Egypt near today’s modern city of Qena some forty kilometers north of Luxor. This site was inhabited from the earliest stage of the “Egyptian” civilization, from at least the Second Dynasty (ca. 3000 BCE). It stood within the so-called Fifth Nome (district) of Upper Egypt, dedicated to the fertility god Min, the latter represented as an upright man, curiously with his left arm holding his erect phallus and his right arm in a saluting gesture that, according to Egyptologists, is “not fully understood.” But the ancient Egyptians themselves did not call their country “Gebtu” or “Coptos” at all. And although they had many names for it, the most commonly used was Km.t (Kemet).
This name is transliterated by Egyptologists as “The Black Land,” the reasoning behind this being, at least according to them, that after the annual flood the waters receded leaving behind a dark, almost black soil, which supposedly inspired the natives to call their land “The Black Land.” But even though it is true that the soil of the Nile Valley is very dark in color, it is also true that the original inhabitants of Egypt were almost certainly dark, black-skinned Africans, a fact that can be clearly ascertained even today by the black-skinned Nubians that still live there in Upper Egypt.