Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs have had their charm on human civilization for thousands of years. While it is true that our understanding of the languages of ancient Egypt is by no means perfect, we know enough to be able to read and understand much of the writings of yore.
Names and Transliterations
A common usage of hieroglyphics is in “write-your-own-name” websites, and consequently in tattoos which contain the resulting inscriptions. We need to distinguish between several levels of plausibility for the Egyptian writing of a name:
- Egyptian Names (e.g. Ra, Ptah, Ramses). Easy, these names can and should by all means be written in Hieroglyphics.
- Foreign Names that have been written in Hieroglyphics by Egyptians. If your name is “Alexander”, you’re lucky – we have records of how this name was written in Hieroglyphics.
- Transliterated Names, according to well-known facts about Egyptian phonology. The Egyptians had a system for writing foreign words, and I see no reason why modern names should not be written like that.
- Silly Names, transliterated blindly from some western spelling using a chart. This is just plain silly. It could only mean something to people who know the original spelling AND the chart. Here is where creative liberty ends, in my opinion.
Originally, cartouches were used by the Egyptians when writing names of royalty, and in some rare cases names of deities. Modern “Egyptian-themed” designers use cartouches much more freely, not only with names but also with anything else.
In this case, I would agree that cartouches are just too cool to be left for the royalty. My only criticism is that in some cases designers do NOT use a cartouche where they SHOULD HAVE (e.g. Nefertiti).