How Did Egypt Get Its Name?

Egypt's ancient civilization was built along the Nile River.
Egypt's ancient civilization was built along the Nile River.

Egypt is transcontinental nation spanning from the northern region of Africa all the way to the southwest of Asia via a bridge in the form of the Sinai Peninsula. On the African side, Egypt is bordered by Libya and Sudan to the west and south respectively. On the Asian side, the east is bound by the Gulf of Aqaba, the northeast by Israel and the Gaza Strip, while the east and south are further bound by the Red Sea. Egypt was among the most advanced civilizations on the planet with massive leaps in writing, urbanization, organized religion, and others. For this reason, ancient Egypt is considered to be a cradle of civilization.



The current English name “Egypt” as we know it today originated from an ancient Greek word through Middle French and Latin. The ancient Greek word is “Aígyptos,” which was “Egypte” in Middle French and “Aegyptus” in Latin. The universal argument is that the Greek forms of the word were derived from the Late Egyptian “Hikuptah” which was a corrupted form of the earlier Egyptian name “Hwt-ka-Ptah” (Ha-ka-Ptah). This earlier Egyptian name translates to "home of the soul (ka) of Ptah". This name is what the Egyptians used to refer to the city of Memphis where the chief deity being worshipped was none other than the potter god Ptah. Other scholars like Strabo argued that the word originated from folklore. Strabo argues that the word “Aígyptos” was once a compound word, “Aigaiou huptiōs,” which roughly translates as being underneath the Aegean.


In the Qurans written in classical Arabic, Egypt is known as “Misr,” which is a name of Semitic roots. The name “Misr” is also Egypt’s modern official name. In Egyptian Arabic, the name is pronounced as “Maṣr.” The name “Misr” is a cognate from words such as “Mitzráyim” in the Hebrew language while in Akkadian, Egypt was known as “miṣru.” The Akkadian form of the word is the oldest verification of the name’s (Misr) relation to Semitic languages. The Akkadian form of the country’s name is related to other words such as “miṣru,” “miṣirru,” and “miṣaru.” All of these names roughly translate to a frontier or a border, which would make sense considering that Egypt can be described as a border between continents.


In ancient Egyptian, the country’s name was “Kemet.” This name holds a reference to the black and fertile soils that are lying in the Nile floodplains. In contrast, the word for a desert, which typically has red sand, was “deshret” which translates to the desert’s red land. Even though the name is pronounced as kemet in modern times, scholars argue that it was probably pronounced differently during its time. When the Egyptian language was in the Coptic phase, the name was slightly altered to “kēme” while in Greek it was further altered to “Khēmía” (Χημία).

Other Names

Aside from the above names, there have been other names for Egypt such as “tꜣ-mry” which translates to a land on a riverbank. This name would obviously be in reference to the Nile or the Red Sea. Upper Egypt was “Ta-Sheme'aw” (Sedgeland) while the lower one was Ta-Mehew (Northland).


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