Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What’s in a Name?

Looking up some statistics concerning Egypt this morning, which I’ve put up on LaMarotte here, I came across a fascinating discussion of the country’s name on Wikipedia. That got me to looking elsewhere as well. In the midst of my researches, I received a comment on my LaMarotte entry. Trying to discover the roots of that name takes one way, way back into the past, but the comment tipped me into the current moment again—and suggested this post. More on that comment at the end.

The people of Egypt, I learned, originally called their country Kemet or Kermet meaning Black Land; they had the rich Nile-fertilized fringes of the river in mind, of course. Another name, also appropriately grounded in experience, was Dershet, meaning Red Land—by which the inhabitants had in mind the vast rest of arid Egypt. In course of this excursion I also discovered that the region owed its development to climate change anciently. It pushed herding peoples south and east as the Sahara region dried out and became a desert around about 3400 BC.

The actual name of, Egypt, was originally associated with the city we now call Memphis. Its name was Hwt-Ka-Ptah, meaning the Temple of the Ka of Ptah. Other renditions of this name are Ha(t)-ka-Ptah, Hikupta, and, in late Egyptian E-Ka-Ptah, Linguists tell me that the hard consonants in this name, k, p, t were modified into q, p, t and eventually g, p, and t. The Greeks, who traded on the Nile a great deal, came to speak of Memphis as of Egypt, and they rendered the name into Aigyptos—which is the name that appears in Homer’s Odyssey. The Romans, who in most cultural ways aped everything Greek, rendered that as Aegyptvs. From there it got transformed, in French, into Egypte, and in Old English into Egipte.

Now in the Bible Egypt is referred to as Mizraim, who was the son of Ham and, by extension, the land of the son of Ham. Today’s Egyptians call their country using the Arab word Misr. It simply means “country.” Misr itself is thought to be of Hebraic derivation.

To this I might add that Ptah was the creator god of people who lived anciently in today’s Memphis. The word ka means soul. The Temple of the Ka of Ptah is thus the Residence of the Soul of God—so highly did the inhabitants of that city think of Memphis on the waters of the Nile: nothing but desert to the west. To see how little water Egypt has, check out the stats on LaMarotte.

Finally the comment. It came from Michelle in France this morning. She said: “Did you know the word Egypt is no longer available on Chinese search motors for fear of extension of the revolutionary energy?” Interesting! Well, I thought. I think I’ll give the Chinese a few other names to search on.

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