You might find it surprising but the Ancient Egyptians did not call their country Egypt neither did they call themselves Egyptians. They would have no idea what were you talking about if they heard those words.

The name they choose for their country was “Kemet” which literary means the “Black Land”. (All names were actually spelt without vowels producing “Kmt”.) The Ancient Egyptians called themselves “Remetch en Kemet“, the “People of the Black Land“.

The name Kemet carved on an obelisk of Ramesses II.

The “Black Land” or Kemet spelt on an obelisk of Ramesses II

Black referred to the colour of the silt of the Nile which produced the fertile soil found in the Nile Valley and Delta. Black, therefore, symbolized the colour of fertility; gods and goddesses of fertility such as for example Min and Ahmose-Nefertari, were purposely depicted having black skin. On the contrary, the deserts were referred to as Deshret, the “Red Land“.

The word Kemet was spelt with four hieroglyphs:

  • a piece of crocodile skin with spines makes the sound K;
  • an owl with her head facing the observer makes the sound M
  • a mountain or a half loaf of bread  makes the sound T.
  • a round symbol represents a crossroad and shows the reader that in this context this is a place name.

As for the word “Egypt”.

Sometime during the Late Period, (towards to the end of the Kemet civilization), the Greeks came up with the name “Aegyptus”. Don’t ask why, it is a long story. It took a century or two before the term stuck in Europe and eventually the Ancient Romans started referred to the land as “Egyptus”. Much later the Arabs, who invaded and settled in the land, re-named it “Egypt”, as it is known to us today.