The Egyptians called their country Kemet, literally the "Black Land" (kem meant "black" in ancient Egyptian). The name derived from the colour of the rich and fertile black soil which was due to the annually occurring Nile inundation. So Kemet was the cultivated area along the Nile valley. The deserts on either side of the Nile were called Desheret, the "Red Land" (desher meant "red"), after the reddish colour of the desert sand.

The reason why the country is called Egypt in English (and l'Égypte in French and Ägypten in German) is quite complicated. The name of one of the largest ancient Egyptian temples, of the god Ptah, at Mennufer (Memphis, south-west of modern Cairo), was Hikuptah (this meant "The Soul of the God Ptah"). The name of the temple began to be used for the city itself and because Memphis was so important even for the whole of the country. It became "Aiguptos" in Greek and this then led to "Egypt" in English.

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