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Tutankhamun's throne name in the sacred writing is as follows:

tut throne name

Which, from the bottom, represent ideograms conventionally pronounced as Neb-U-Kheper-Ra.

However, when the name is transliterated (for example on the Wikipedia) it is given as Nebkheperure, with the U coming between kheper and Ra/Re, instead of between neb and kheper (yielding 'Nibukhepera' instead as I would expect). Why is the order of U and Kheper transposed in the standard transliteration?

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  • Givrn that we are talking about what looks like a dung beetle that was supposedly venerated for rolling the sun across the sky like a ball of dirt, you may expect a stratified meaning. Nebukadneza, 800 years younger, apparently named after the akkadian (?) god Nabu, is just one hint; Which figures with wikipedia's secondary gloss "Lord" under nb. Meanwhile, .w (your u) is read tw.n in the "proclitic (‘subject form’) pronouns [only in post-classical texts]). Whatever that means, it reads Neptun. Also compare "their majesty".
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 12:01

2 Answers 2

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The throne name (praenomen) has the following four hieroglyphs, listed by Gardiner number as:

𓎟 V30 (basket)

𓏥 Z2 (three strokes)

𓆣 L1 (dung beetle)

𓇳 N5 (sun)

I think the issue you are having is with Z2, the plural strokes for the plural. However, Z2 is classified as a determinative, indicating plurality. Because it was often paired with hieroglyph G43 (quail chick), which does have a phonetic value -w, the Z2 is often transcribed as (w) within brackets.

Although it looks like Z2 (three strokes) is "before" L1 (dung beetle), as a determinative it simply adds to what is physically above it, not what comes before it in phonetic order. Hence the plural determinative Z2 is "attached" to L1, and so we should parse it as:

V30 (basket)

L1 (dung beetle) - Z2 (three strokes)

N5 (sun)

Hence we have nb-ḫpr(w)-rꜥ. Adding conventional changes, we get Neb-kheperu-re, which becomes "Nebkheperure" in modern standard Egyptological writing.

There is also the fact that many (most?) of the other pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty had a throne name ending in the same thing. So we have Aakheperure (Amenhotep II) all the way down to Djeserkheperure (Horemheb).

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    I believe a cartouche is read from the direction of the tie, so in that case the U-symbol would modify nib, not kheper. In other words, in symbols it signfies "prosperity (much of everything), rebirth of Ra", in that order. The throne name of Amenhotep II is U-kheper-Ra which means "great is the rebirth of Ra". I don't think U is used as a determinative at all in Amenhotep's name, at least in the translations I have seen. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 19:04
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    @TylerDurden You are correct that cartouches are read from the tie. Again, the sign Z2 in Amenhotep II's name is a determinative attached to L1, so it is O29-(L1-Z2)-N5, ꜥꜣ-ḫpr(w)-rꜥ = Aakheperure. You can think of it like reading a diacritic e.g. the acute accent on "e" in "café".
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 14:24
  • Compare modern Indic scripts (such as Devanagari), where some vowels (eg short /i/) are written before (on the left of) the consonant letter, others (eg long /i/) are written after (on the right), and others over, under, or more than one of the above. Nevertheless, the vowel is always spoken following the consnant.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 18:20
  • @ColinFine And Indic-derived scripts, like Thai, do this, too.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 2:32
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Actually, the notion that the glyphs were written in some order is incorrect. They were written in a direction, but the scribes fitted them in where they looked best, except that the names of deities went at the top or front to honor them. Kheperuw is a plural of a word meaning ‘creation, arising, emanation’ referring to the daily risings of the sun which Khepri pushed across the sky each day. Thus the name should be Lord of the (repeated) risings/emanations of Ra’ (which if we believe the Amarna letters, should be pronounce roughly Ria.)

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    Graphical transpositions happen, but in the vast majority of cases the glyphs are written in the same order as the words and the sounds.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 23:12
  • @Draconis moving glyphs for deities earlier in a word is pretty common actually (although doesn't seem to explain this). So-called "honourific transposition", cf en.wiktionary.org/wiki/honorific_transposition for a couple of examples and citation from Allen
    – Tristan
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 8:40
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    @Tristan Indeed, and sometimes for non-divine names depending on the era—but in most cases, the word order was regular and predictable.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 13:54

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