Titles and epithets in Ancient Egypt

The most common hieroglyphic titles and epithets of the pharaohs.

Titles are honourifics or adjectives that denote a characteristic to indicate the importance or position in the kingdom and usually placed before the cartouche. The pharaoh's titulary was an essential part of their identity and conveyed various aspects of their authority, divinity, and role in society.

Epithets are descriptive phrases or adjectives used to supplement the titles or personal name, providing additional context and attributes, often of a religious or symbolic nature, and were placed after the cartouche. To establish a connection between the pharaoh, who was regarded as a divine figure, and both the people and the gods, unique epithets were coined for them upon their ascension to the throne.

The fivefold titulary

The standard naming convention by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt is known as the fivefold titulary. We are largely unaware of the details involved in selecting the four names announced at the presumed coronation celebration, but it served as a mission statement for the monarch's reign, although it sometimes changed during their reign. No king from the Early Dynastic period and just a few from the Old Kingdom used all five names, and even the latter group did not always present them in the sequence we expect.

The Horus name

Horus name First of the five titularies is the Horus name consists of a falcon and a rectangular serekh representing the god Horus and the royal palace respectively.
The symbolism of Horus perched upon the palace establish a close relationship between the divine Horus and the earthly might of the King. The king’s name or title was written in the empty space of the serekh to to indicate which king sat on the throne. When part of a longer text, the serekh was practically never drawn, probably for aesthetic reasons.

Consider these different representations of Ramesses II’s Horus name:

A Horus name vertical B Horus name vertical without serekh C Horus name horizontal D Horus name horizontal with serekh

Variants A, B, and C are found in hieroglyphic texts, whereas D is generally only used in modern times to facilitate transcription when copying a hieroglyphic text. The Horus Name gradually lost some of its significance compared to the prenomen and nomen titles, but it remained a component of the formal titulary until the last pharaoh.

The Nebty name

Nebty name The cobra-headed goddess Wadjet was the matron and guardian of Lower Egypt in her cobra form. Her Upper Egyptian namesake was the vulture-headed Nekhbet. After the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, they became Egypt’s shared protectors and patrons. The name comes from the goddesses, seated on baskets, which read as nb.ti, meaning the “Two Ladies”, signify unity of the Two Lands.

The Golden Falcon name

Golden name The meaning of this part of the titulary is somewhat uncertain. It has a falcon representing Horus perched on the symbol of ‘gold’, which was strongly linked to ‘eternity’. The Golden Falcon name may reflect the same idea of eternity, expressing the king's desire to be an eternal Horus.
Gold was thought to be the flesh of the gods in Ancient Egypt, while silver was their bones. It is possible to see in this title an identification of the pharaoh with the divine Horus and of the sustainability of the monarchy.

The throne name

Birth name The fourth part of the titulary, the Throne name, or Prenomen, was created for the coronation of the new pharaoh. Represented by a papyrus plant and a bee, it read as nsw-bi.ti which translates to ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’, or ‘The Dual King’ referencing Egypt’s geographical duality.

Royal names were enclosed by an elongated ring Cartouche known as šnw, a Shenu in ancient Egyptian, which offered the name eternal protection. The protection was only available to royalty and applied to both the prenomen and nomen. The modern name is for the ring is cartouche, from early 19th-century French scholars who thought they resembled paper gunpowder cartridges.

The personal name

Birth name This was the personal name given at birth. It was preceded by the title ‘Son of Ra’ and followed by the name itself, protected inside of a cartouche. For most of history, the principal name used was the prenomen alone, or accompanied only by the nomen. We commonly call the ancient pharaohs by this name and use numbering (like "II" and "III") to tell apart those with identical names. In recent decades, it has become more usual to differentiate pharaohs by using their original (non-Hellenistic) prenomen and nomen.


To reinforce or emphasise a particular aspect or function of the king, epithets were added to the royal titles.

King of Upper Egypt King, King of Upper Egypt

The Good God The good god
Netjer nefer

The ‘young god’ might be more accurate meaning than the traditional ‘good god’.

Lord of the Two Lands Lord of the Two Lands
Neb tawy

Sometimes found after the ‘Dual King’ Lord of the Two Lands but before the cartouche, further emphasising the duality of the king.

Lord of Apparitions/Crowns Lord of Apparitions/Crowns
Neb khau

Sometimes found after the ‘son of Ra’ Great Royal Wife hieroglyphs but before the cartouche.

Strong bull Strong bull
Ka nakht

Often part of the Horus name

Life everlasting Life everlasting
Ankh djeta

Found after the cartouche.

True of Voice True of Voice
Maa kheru

Used to indicate that the king had died and become a god. Placed after the cartouche.

LPH Life, Prosperity, Health
Ankh wedja seneb

Found after the names of the king, well-wishing phrase meaning ‘stay alive, be strong and healthy’.

The king’s family

Great Royal Wife hieroglyphs The Great Royal Wife
Hemet Nesut Weret

Pharaoh’s main wife, as opposed to lesser wives and concubines.

The King’s wife hieroglyphs The King’s wife
Hemet Nesu
The King’s mother hieroglyphs The King’s mother
Mut Nesu
The King’s father hieroglyphs The King’s father
It Nesu
The King’s son hieroglyphs The King’s son
Sa Nesu
The King’s daugher hieroglyphs The King’s daughter
Sat Nesu
The King’s brother hieroglyphs The King’s brother
Sen Nesu
The King’s sister hieroglyphs The King’s sister
Senet Nesu
The crown-prince hieroglyphs The crown-prince
The hereditary prince hieroglyphs The hereditary prince

In hieroglyphic inscriptions, the associated titles and epithets provide insights into the roles and status of pharaohs, officials, priests, and gods and are essential for deciphering and understanding the rich history and culture of ancient Egypt.

For more information check out the hieroglyphs page.