The sacred writing of Egyptian king Tutankhamun's throne name is shown belong aside the same name as it appears in a letter written in cuneiform to his majesty from the king of the Hittites.

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The four signs in the Egyptian form (reading from the bottom) can be transliterated as Nb-U-Kheper-Ra. Therefore, we might expect the name to be pronounced "Nibukhepera." (Note that Nb should be Nib, not Neb, because Neb meaning gold is a different sign. Nib means 'everything'.)

The cuneiform beside it is transliterated by Guterbock as Ni-ip-khu-ru-ri-ia-as, which seems to be somewhat different than the Egyptian. For example, if we take the Hittite to be Nip-Khuru-Ria-as, the -as being a personal suffix, then Kheper becomes Khuru and Ra becomes Ria and U is silent. This is strange because the P in kheper has become an R in Hittite, which seems unlikely because a rhotic consonant is being transmuted to a plosive.

On the other hand, if we take the Hittite to be Nip-Khu-Ruri-Ia-as, then Khu and Ra/Ya closely match, but Kheper is Ruri, where once again we have a severe change of sounds.

The bottom line here seems to be that the Hittites are not pronouncing the scarab as Kheper, but are pronouncing some other way. So, does this point to the traditional pronounciation of the scarab being either incorrect, or incorrect in the New Kingdom period of time, perhaps?

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    How does it relate to Hittite? In Babylon, Assyrian was spoken. Jul 23, 2019 at 16:07
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    Also, "Ra" is an "Egyptological" pronunciation, which means "remove all vowels, pretend any sounds English-speakers don't like are /a/, then add /ɛ/ wherever you like to make it pronounceable". The word for "sun" was written rꜥ; Coptic indicates that the vowel was most likely originally /i/, and Assyrian transcriptions show that it was probably pronounced with an epenthetic /a/ by Middle Egyptian times, giving something like /riaʕ/.
    – Draconis
    Jul 23, 2019 at 17:29
  • @jknappen The version of cuneiform I ended up using in the question is from the Deeds of Suppiluliuma, a Hittite king. I will update the question. Jul 23, 2019 at 17:30
  • (In other words, the word for "sun" being transcribed ri-ia or ri-ia-as is exactly what would be expected in Assyrian, the latter having some sort of suffix added, or else a reinterpretation of the `ayin. I don't know the vocalizations of x-p-r "become" off the top of my head, but it probably wasn't "kheper" either.)
    – Draconis
    Jul 23, 2019 at 17:31
  • The verb ḫpr / x-p-r results in ϣⲱⲡⲓ (šōpi) in Bohairic Coptic and ϣⲱⲡⲉ (šōpi) in Sahidic Coptic, meaning "to become" [and also, "cucumber", from a different Egyptian root].
    – Michaelyus
    Jul 24, 2019 at 9:57

2 Answers 2


It's important to remember that hieroglyphic Egyptian usually makes the consonants clear, but not the vowels. Tutankhamun's praenomen is thus transcribed nb-ḫpr-(w)-rꜥ (or nb-xpr-(w)-rꜥ, depending on the author; and x mean the same thing). But the form "Neb-Kheper-U-Ra" is purely a modern invention to make it more pronounceable, replacing consonants with vowels and adding /ɛ/ wherever desired to turn it into something an English-speaker can say.

A better guide to the pronunciation can be found in the Amarna Letters. Letter EA 9 starts out with the following line:

a-na ni-ip-xu-ur-ri-ri-ya LUGAL KUR mi#

(H versus x is just a transcription convention in Akkadian and Hittite, so I'm changing things to look closer to the Egyptian. Similarly, ia and ya are just two different transcriptions for the same sign, and re and ri were phonologically distinct but written the same in cuneiform.)

The end of the line is damaged, but it can be filled in with decent confidence:

To Nipxurreria, King of Egy[pt]:

Lining the two versions up with each other:

n b-x pr -(w)-r  ꜥ
nip xurre     ria

So it seems that the first vowel is i, the second vowel is u, pr assimilated completely to rr, the (w) may have been weak or silent, and the final vowel is i (with an epenthetic a before the pharyngeal). Alternately, the final vowel might just have been i, with -ya meaning "mine" (so "my king Nipxurreri"); I've seen both versions proposed.

So now we can put our approximation of the vowels back into the word, giving nib-xurre-(w)-riaꜥ. Let's compare that against the Hittite, which I transcribed slightly differently:

    ni  b-xu rre-(w)-ri  aꜥ
[M]-ni-ib-xu-r    u -ri-ya -aš

This seems to line up very nicely! The final is a Hittite nominative ending, so it can be disregarded, and the initial [M] is a silent determinative, saying that what follows is a male name. Remember also that it wasn't uncommon to transcribe a vowel twice in cuneiform, using the pattern CV-VC for a CVC syllable—this was just due to the constraints of the writing system, and doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the underlying phonemes.

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    Ok, that makes some sense, but you don't seem to address some of the fundamental aspects of my question. For example, no matter what transliterations are used xpr has a P, a plosive, in the middle of it, but the Hittite/Sumerian forms seem to have an R, a rhotic consonant, basically a completely different sound. As far as I know there is no basis for a plosive being confused for a rhotic, so that would seem to raise the possibility that there is a misunderstanding somewhere. Jul 23, 2019 at 18:20
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    @TylerDurden I posit a complete assimilation of the cluster /pr/ to /rr/, which is a not-uncommon sound change.
    – Draconis
    Jul 23, 2019 at 18:21

As mentioned by other people, Egyptian transliterates as nb-ḫpr-w-rꜥ, while cuneiform reads ni-ib-hu-ur-ri-ri-ia or ni-ib-hu-ru-ri-ia. The name contains three basic morphemes. The first is *nib (or *neb), the last is *Riꜥa (God Râ). So far, so clear. Now, the issue is the second morpheme: obviously neither hurri nor huru can equate ḫpr. So the conclusion is that cuneiform Nib-Hur(r)u-Ria reflects another name, something like nb-ḫ(w)r-rꜥ. This pharaoh has an ordinary name that was not the official nb-ḫpr-w-rꜥ written on the walls.

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