Here's how to write the alphabet in Egyptian hieroglyphs

Originally published at: Here's how to write the alphabet in Egyptian hieroglyphs | Boing Boing


For more on the relationship of the alphabet to hieroglyphics, consider: (PDF) Goldwasser, O. 2010. “How the Alphabet was Born from Hieroglyphs.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36/2 (March/April): 40-53. Award: "Best of BAR" award for 2009-2010. (Discussion with Anson Rainey: | Orly Goldwasser -

I initially was trying to figure out exactly what was being claimed here - that this was the preferred way for Egyptians/Romans to transliterate Roman names in hieroglyphics? Given that Roman use/pronunciation of characters is quite different from modern English usage, that would be suspect enough, but it’s worse than that. It appears to just be an attempt to connect roman characters to hieroglyphics based on a wildly simplified - and sometimes inaccurate - transliteration. In reality the transliterations are contentious and complicated, hieroglyphics certainly don’t have 1-to-1 correspondences with the modern alphabet.

This seems like part of the tendency for people to want to see other languages as simply ciphers of English, where other character systems - even if they’re, say, ideograms - are “actually” just the English alphabet in disguise.


Thank you for this.

Seeing zillions of places offering “a cartouche with your name!” has driven me spare since they first appeared decades ago. Merely transliterating modern sounds into their supposed equivalents in an ancient tongue is such nonsense. Type about false equivalences, sheesh!

Besides, names in all languages have meanings. John means ‘God is gracious;’ Lucille comes from Latin for ‘light;’ James is derived from Jacob, which means ‘may God protect;’ Dolores means ‘sadness;’ Melissa comes from the Latin for ‘honey;’ etc etc.


…That’s what Egyptians did though. Hieroglyphs are complex and full of things like logograms, but they also included a set of symbols that were used to phonetically write foreign names – like Alexandros, Kleopatra, and Ptolemaios. They were some of the first symbols worked out from the Rosetta stone as a result before they turned to the others.

Yes, those names do have meanings in Greek but Egyptians didn’t translate them, just as we don’t call them Wardman, Glory-of-father, and War-like in English. You can question if the correspondence of sounds is being done well, and often I think it isn’t, but the idea of transliterating a name into another script is not nonsense at all.


Though not nearly as bad as the “your name in Chinese characters” thing that got popular, which was driven to heights of absurdity by most frequently not only associating characters with random English letters, but also not even using real Chinese characters, instead making use of parts of characters (or entirely made-up characters).

Although to be fair, hieroglyphics, being based on the rebus principle, don’t necessarily encode the meaning of words in how they’re written either.

They clearly aren’t, though. I mean, even modern European languages’ usage of roman characters isn’t usually the same as the corresponding letters used in English - but when you have languages that are unrelated and have very a different set of sounds, and multiple hieroglyphics that correspond with, say, the “k” sound (not to mention the disagreement by scholars over the sounds corresponding with each character)… it’s absurd to pretend that there’s anything even remotely like a fixed, one-to-one correspondence between hieroglyphics and English letters.


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