Names of Gods and Goddesses, an Update

All Life and Dominion – Khonsu Temple Ptolemaic Gateway, Karnak. © Matthew Whealton 2016

Here are a few updates to my previous post on pronouncing the names of Gods and Goddesses here.

That post mentions that further work is needed for the name of Seth, which is given some more bibliographic background here, along with a slightly modified vocalization.

And there are two new names: those of Khepri and Wepwawet.

I’ll also take the opportunity to talk about some of the details behind these three reconstructions. But first, here are the updates themselves (the Pronunciation Key for the symbols is found in the first post):


Wepwawet  **wap-wi’áiwat   wp-wꜢwt  [*mjw  wap-wiʔáiwat  (< wá:pi + wiʔáiwat, with reduction of initial word stress, vowel length, and final glide as part of a compound noun.] (compound of  wp(ı͗), wꜢwt) n  God Wepwawet (Osing 1976, 131,120-133, 628)

Compound components:

wp(ı͗) **wá:pi [*mjw wá:pi (from Osing class A.II.1 m. sá:ḏim / f. sáḏ, 3ae-inf pattern m. Aá:Bij/w  /  f. AáBj/ Osing’s reconstruction would be **wá:pij/w)] ptcp  Opener (perfective active masculine singular participle) (Osing 1976, 131,120-133). cf. compound wp-wAwt

wꜢwt  *wi’áiwat [wiʔáiwat (Osing shows wiꜢáj.w˘t)] n  ways (f. plu.) (Osing 1976, 628). cf. compound wp-wAwt

Khepri ḫá:pi ḫprı͗  [ḫá:pi MK/NK (Werning shows ḫa:pi) < OK/MK ḫpr ~ ḫá:pir (cf.)] cf: xpr. ptcp God Khepri (Transforming One) MK/NK (m. sg. part.) (Werning 2013, 243; 2014, Teil I, 128, 256, Teil II, 504; 2008, 130-131).

Seth sú:tiẖ stẖ, stš, stḫ  [sú:tiẖ (OK) (Lincke) > sútḫ ~ sútʰch (LE) (Peust)] n  God Seth (Lincke and Kammerzell 2012, 59); (Peust 1997, 117). For justification on early pronunciation with / xʲ / (the standard treatment of, contra Lincke/Kammerzell, where stands for /x/, the _non-palatalized_ voiceless velar fricative), see (Allen 2013, 44-45). For the Kammerzell and Peust positions on and reconstructions of stẖ, respectively see (Kammerzell 2005, various, esp. 182-183) (Peust 1999, 184-185). The Old Coptic reflex is /se:t/ and the Greek Nebenbestellung (transcription) is /se:tʰ/.


For Wepwawet, I have provided my own reconstruction based on Osing’s vocalization for “Ways, Roads” (the “-wawet” part of the name) and the perfective active masculine singular participle “Opener” (the “Wep-” part). Although a vocalization for the participle is not directly attested for the verb wpı͗ ‘to open, clear a path’, the vowel and consonant pattern of the word is a very well-known and well-supported one. It is also the pattern of many basic adjectives and is directly comparable to the active participle of Form I verbs in Arabic. The masculine form of the pattern is Fá:MiL (where F, M, and L stand for the First, Middle, and Last consonant of the tri-consonantal verbal root, respectively) or sá:ḏim (Egyptologists tend to use the consonants of the verb sḏm ‘to hear’ as the pattern scaffold) or Aá:BiC (another more general scaffolding system, where the consonant slots are labeled A, B, C, D, and so on, and the scaffolding can show roots of any number of different primary consonants and various germinating and reduplicating patterns. All these kinds of word patterns occur in Egyptian and many other Afro-Asiatic languages). There is a slight wrinkle here in that the verb wpı͗ is a ‘Third Weak’ i.e. ‘3ae-inf’ verb. Third Weak verbs have the last root consonant as either ‘ı͗/j’ (depending on Egyptological transcriptional style) or ‘w’, each semi-vowels / glides. A final weak consonant affects the way the underlying pattern gets realized in pronunciation and in writing. (And to add in more fun complications, how this happens changes over time as well). From all this we get the pronunciation of wá:pi for the first component word when it stands alone. Now, when we take the next step and combine it with the word wi’áiwat “Ways, Roads”, further changes occur. Egyptian mostly treats the second word of a compound noun as having more weight and therefore as holding the accent or the stronger accent of two component nouns. (Exceptions do exist, of course). So, the first word will lose its stress accent and any vowel lengthening that might accompany that accent. So we go from wá:pi to wapi-. Now, we again face the issue of how to treat that final vowel, which resulted from the elision of the final semi-vowel in the word pattern. Here, I have chosen to simply drop it, since the initial consonant of the second component is itself a semi-vowel. Therefore, we finally end up with wap-. There could easily have been some form that kept the ‘i’, or a slightly changed vowel, for example ‘a’ or a short neutral schwa, perhaps in an earlier or transitional historical stage or in slow speech, but it would tend to get swallowed in the following ‘w’ in connected, normal speed speech in my judgement. All in all, I think the name of the God Wepwawet sounded something close to wap-wi’áiwat.

Khepri’s name shows another kind of sound transformation and an interesting way to indicate it in writing. Here again, we are dealing with the masculine singular perfective active participle pattern Fá:MiL, which is the original Old Kingdom (OK) form of the name: ḫá:pir and which is reflected in OK spellings. This appears to have been the pronunciation into the earlier part of the Middle Kingdom(Werning 2008, 130-131; 2013, 243), when a sound change began to happen that later becomes very strong and very general throughout later forms of the Egyptian Language. A final consonant ‘r’ especially in unstressed final syllables, is dropped, leaving just the vowel (here ‘i’) at the end of the word. This process is sometimes reflected in new spellings of words, as it is in the written forms of the name Khepri. Apparently to indicate that the sound has changed and to reduce confusion as to the original root involved, the scribes spelled the word with _both_ ‘r’ and ‘i’ (as a way to indicate the word ended in a vowel) – to give the spelling ḫprı͗. But the result for pronunciation is that the word now sounded like ḫá:pi. Eventually, in the Ptolemaic Period, most monumental hieroglyphic spellings of Khepri’s name become ḫpy. By that time the sound change was so general that indicating the original root consonant was no longer felt necessary and the r was usually dropped.

Finally, the spellings of Seth’s name show yet again evidence of sound transformations – from very different periods. First the spellings of the name as stẖ and stš reflect a very early shift in hieroglyphic spelling and pronunciation. At first, up to about Dynasty III, there was no separate phoneme for the /š/ (‘sh’ in English) sound, there was only a / xʲ / sound (a palatalized velar fricative similar to the ‘ch’ in the German word ‘ich’), with some variants (these are called allophones) that did not affect meaning. At first there was also only one hieroglyph as well – the ‘lake’ sign usually transliterated as š, at that time pronounced /ẖ/. Then, about the time of Dyn III, a new glyph appeared – the ‘belly’ sign , but it stood for the same original phoneme. This occurred just before there appears to have been a differentiation process in the allophones of / xʲ / into two distinct phonemes / xʲ / =  and / ʃ / = š, represented by the two glyphs as we are familiar with them in the later forms of Egyptian. So on the basis of that, and because the very early spellings of Seth’s name use the spellings stẖ and stš, the name is reconstructed in the OK as sú:tiẖ. It is quite possible that some dialects of Egyptian did take the other route and pronounced the name with / ʃ / as well. Much later, as people migrated from the Levant into the Eastern Delta regions where Seth’s cult was popular, a new spelling becomes prominent: stḫ. This appears to reflect the way people who spoke Semitic languages from the levant heard the sound ~ / xʲ / : to them it sounded like their native consonant ~ /x/ (a _plain_ velar fricative like Hebrew ‘La-Chaim’). As these people adopted Egyptian language and culture, the pronunciation and then the spelling ‘stuck’. Since I am targeting my work towards an educated priestly pronunciation used in formal ritual practice in the earlier part of Dynasty 18, I have chosen to use the ‘native’, literary dialect, and conservative pronunciation sú:tiẖ.

All of this is rather dense I know, questions and comments are welcome.


Allen, James P. 2013. The ancient Egyptian language: an historical study (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, etc.).

Kammerzell, Frank. 2005. ‘Old Egyptian and Pre-Old Egyptian: Tracing linguistic diversity in Archaic Egypt and the creation of the Egyptian language.’ in Stephan Johannes Seidlmayer (ed.), Texte und Denkmäler des ägyptischen Alten Reiches (Achet, Dr. Norbert Dürring, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften: Berlin).

Lincke, Eliese-Sophia, and Frank Kammerzell. 2012. ‘Egyptian classifiers at the interface of lexical semantics and pragmatics’, Lexical Semantics in Ancient Egyptian, Lingua Aegyptia Studia Monographica, 9: 55-112.

Osing, Jürgen. 1976. Die Nominalbildung des Ägyptischen (Philipp von Zabern Verlag: Mainz/Rhein).

Peust, Carsten. 1997. Hieroglyphisch Wort für Wort (Reise Know-How Verlag Rump).

———. 1999. Egyptian phonology: an introduction to the phonology of a dead language (Peust & Gutschmidt Verlag: Göttingen).

Werning, Daniel A. 2008. ‘Aenigmatische Schreibungen in Unterweltsbüchern des Neuen Reiches: gesicherte Entsprechungen und Ersetzungsprinzipien’, Miscellanea in honorem Wolfhart Westendorf: 124-52.

———. 2013. ‘Linguistic Dating of the Netherworld Books Attested in the New Kingdom’, Dating Egyptian Literary Texts: 237-81.

———. 2014. Das Höhlenbuch: Textkritische Edition und Textgrammatik Teil I: Überlieferungsgeschichte und Textgrammatik Teil II: Textkritische Edition und Übersetzung (Harrassowitz Verlag).

All text © Matthew Whealton 2017, image © Matthew Whealton 2016