Derivation of the Name Horus

In Egyptian hieroglyphics this name is designated as:

In transliteration it is:

Explanation of the symbols comes from Kelley L. Ross at  http://www.friesian.com/egypt.htm

I have edited somewhat to make points more clear.

The picture of a wick of twisted flax. This represents a strong guttural consonant, an "h" which occurs with a strong contraction of the throat, but without voicing (a voiceless pharyngeal fricative). This is the letter h.a in Arabic, another sound that Egyptians today can still pronounce without difficulty. It is not like the "ch" in "Channakah" in Ashkenazi Hebrew. This presents special difficulty for ASCII representation. Some typescript systems for Arabic use a capital "H," but here we use the postscript period as shown above.

The picture of a face is an ideogram in the guttural hr, meaning face or sight. Here it means upon, concerning, or because of. Before the "w" suffix it is written in the form of resting upon the "r" sound. It emphasizes the preceding sound, causing the (H) to be sounded like an O. This sign is not to be confused with the preceding; it is totally separate and linguistic in its meaning. For a discussion of this form see below.


The picture of a mouth. This is an "r" (a resonant whose varieties can no longer be determined for ancient Egyptian). Note that there is no l in Egyptian. Usually Egyptians just pronounced foreign l's as r's. When Greek names, like "Ptolemaios" or "Kleopatra," were later transcribed, the biliteral sign rw was used for "l." Loprieno (p. 31), however, advances the opinion that the contrast between r and l may not have been lost in all dialects of Egyptian, since independent l's emerge in Coptic and also seem to have been indicated by an nr "grapheme" in Late Egyptian texts that reflect the spoken language.


The picture of a quail chick, this is simply a "w" (labial glide). However, like "y," the "w" has become very weak and sometimes disappears. While it is tempting and sometimes compelling to read it in some contexts as a vowel, as in the name of the builder of the Great Pyramid, khwfw, "Khufu," we usually don't have any evidence about that. "W" is written "ou" in Coptic, but this is because there is no "w" in Greek and "ou" can make do. When it is followed by a vowel, there is not much ambiguity. Simply, we might read it as "u."


The picture of a falcon sitting on a standard. The falcon is the Great Horus symbol, from very ancient Egypt and the Old Kingdom. This is a determinative that denotes the rank of the individual, or his name. It is used, for example, to denote that the King is speaking. This symbol has no vocal articulation.



For further explanation of this Horus name I refer to Egyptian Grammar, Alan Gardiner, Third Edition Revised, Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1999. He has a discussion of the "old perfective," Section 309, in which he says:

The old perfective is the sole surviving relic in Egyptian of the Semitic finite verb.


Here we find the meaning of the ending "w." It occurs in the third person singular and plural verbs, page 234.  When used in this form the name becomes a verb. I shall illustrate.


In contrast, the falcon sitting on the sign for gold is the title of the king (H)r n nbw = Hor(us) of gold. Here the name is simply stated as a name, not as a verb. [I use parenthesis (H) to denote the guttural sound.]


In Lesson XXIII, Section 319ff, page 243ff, Gardiner discusses the "pseudo-verbal" construction (h)r and its applications. See especially Section 320, page 244. [Again, not to be confused with the name (H)r.]



Putting all of this together we can arrive at a literal translation of (H)rw. This we can determine by reverting to the Semitic verb forms. What is in the finite verb we should be looking for?

Consider the Hebrew verb (O)r. It is written as:

א ו ר

In the inflected form, (O)ru, it is written as:

א ו ר ו

I have not shown the vowel pointing, used in almost all modern publications, but rather have kept it as it would have been written in the ancient style.

In these symbols I show the method used in Hebrew, reading from right to left.

The first letter, the initial Hebrew aleph, is exactly like the Egyptian flax symbol. It is sounded the same way. The difference between showing the sound as an (H) or an aleph is strictly one of familiarity, how the scholar is conditioned by his training.

The second letter wav is exactly like the Egyptian face in its linguistic meaning. It modifies how the aleph should be pronounced, with an O sound, just as the face signifies an O sound.

The third letter resh is the same as the Egyptian mouth. It is the letter "r."

The fourth letter wav is the same as the Egyptian chick. It is the letter "w," pronounced "u."

We can see that the wav represents two different sounds. In the first it modifies how the aleph should be sounded; in the second it represent the "w" sound, pronounced "u."

The pronunciation of the Egyptian (H)or and the Hebrew (O)r are identical, as far as we can tell.

This word is a fundamental Hebrew root stem. We find it in the third person singular as (O)r =  he shall shine. It is inflected in the masculine plural imperative as (O)ru, to shine!

Does the name Horus have a literal meaning in ancient Egyptian?

I obtained this information from the TourEgypt web site, http://www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/horus.htm

In the confused mythologies of Egypt, he is Patron of: the living Pharaoh, rulers, law, war, young men, light, the sun, and many others, depending on the particular variant.

In one variant he is named Harmakhet, God of the dawn and of the morning sun. It is thought that the Great Sphinx, staring at the eastern horizon, the place of the rising sun, represents him.

Horus Behudety/Horus of Edfu
God of the noontime sun. This particular variant was first worshipped in the western Delta and spread south, a cult center being established at Edfu. He is represented by a winged sun or as a lion with the head of a hawk. Horus Behudety fights constantly against Set and an army of darkness to ensure that the sun rises each day.

Horus the Elder (Haroeris)
An early form of Horus, when his cult was still new in Egypt. A god of light, his left eye was the sun and his right eye the moon. He was the brother of Osiris and Set, and the husband of Hathor.


A combined god of Horus and Ra, he was the god of the sun and took it on its daily path across the sky. He is represented as a falcon or a falcon-headed man wearing the solar disk and the double crown.

Clearly he was associated with light, and the sun as symbolizing light.