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January 23, 2013


The name of our 118th Coptic Patriarch should, in our opinion, be written as “تاودوروس” in Arabic and as “Tawudoros” in English, and not as “تاوضروس” or “Tawadros”.


 On 18 November 2012 Tawadros II was consecrated at St. Mark Coptic Cathedral in Cairo to become the 118th Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St, Mark. In the Coptic Church his name has been written in Arabic as تاوضروس while in English it is written as Tawadros. Since the election of Pope Tawadros II, a fortnight before his ordaining, several, inside and outside Egypt, have wondered about the etymology and history of his name in the Coptic Church.

The Coptic Church has known the name amongst its patriarchs when Pope Tawadros I (730 – 742) was consecrated 45th Coptic Patriarch during Egypt’s Umayyad Period (658 – 750). B. Evetts[1] who translated the Arabic version of Ta’rikh Batarikat al-Kanisah al-Misriyah as History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria in the early 20th century,[2] gives this Pope the name Theodore. The Arabic manuscript from which he made his translation gives the name as تاودوروس, which can be transliterated to Tawudoros.  So, what is the origin of the name and why is it written differently in Arabic, once as تاودوروس and another as تاوضروس? Which is better and more accurate? And why should the English transliteration not be Tawudoros, which seems to be more accurate, rather than Tawadros?

It is important to remember that Ta’rikh Batarikat al-Kanisah al-Misriyah was not written originally in Arabic language but in Greek and Coptic. It was translated in the Middle Ages from Coptic to Arabic between 1088 and 1094 by Mawhub ibn Muffarij et al,[3] as a result of increasing the Arabisation of the Copts.[4] Before that Copts spoke and wrote Coptic and Greek. B. Evetts is right in rendering the name تاودوروس into Theodore for this is indeed the English version of the Greek and Coptic name which the 45th Coptic patriarch carried.

Unlike the very Egyptian name Shenouda,[5] which Pope Shenouda III (1971 – 2012) carried,[6] the name of Pope Tawadros II is originally Greek Θεοδωρος (Latinised, Theodoros). It is a name from ancient Greece[7] and means “gift of god” from Greek Θεός (theos) “god” and δωρον (doron) “gift”. This name spread in Egypt after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. One of the most revered equestrian (warrior) saints by the Copts is St. Theodore,[8] who has many churches in Egypt bearing his name, and many wall paintings and icons depict him. When the Arab invaded Egypt in 640 AD, the Imperial army was led by General Theodore.[9]

In order to study the different forms under which the Greek name Θεοδωρος appeared in Coptic, and also the equivalent Arabic forms (with English transliteration), which help to reveal the phonetics and phonology of the Bohairic dialect, one cannot find better than the study by Emile Maher Ishak in his D.Phil thesis “The phonetics and phonology of the Bohairic dialect of Coptic and the survival of Coptic words in the colloquial and Classical Arabic of Egypt and of Coptic grammatical constructions in colloquial Egyptian Arabic”[10]


Figure 1: From p. 438 of Emile Maher Ishak’s invaluable D.Phil thesis.

One can see the different forms of the name in Coptic and the confusion which the equivalent Arabic forms, for each Coptic form, have cast on the right pronunciation of Coptic. This matter is further complicated by the conflict between those who support what is called the Old Bohairic Pronunciation, such as Emile Maher Ishak, and the Reformed Pronunciation (Greco-Bohairic or Neo-Bohairic), which was introduced into the Coptic Church since the 1850s.

It seems that the commonest form used in Coptic manuscript is Θεοδωρος, which is similar to the Greek spelling. We can see from the excerpt from Emile Maher Ishak’s thesis that eight Arabic forms exist in manuscripts where Arabic transliteration is given to the Coptic name, including تاودوروس and تاوضروس . Nonetheless, it seems that the commonest transliteration into Arabic is تاودوروس, which the Arabic text of the History of the Patriarchs agrees with.

I, therefore, think that our new Pope’s name “Θεοδωρος” should be written in English as “Tawudoros” and in Arabic as “تاودوروس”, for this is most probably how we pronounced it, not as Theodoros (as Greeks had it)[11] or Tawadros or تاوضروس (as is a corrupt and inaccurate pronunciation). The Arabic letter “ض (Ḍād)” is specifically foreign to Coptic language,[12] and sounds odd being used in names of Greek and Coptic origin.

[1] The English historian Basil Thomas Alfred Evetts, or simply B. T. A. Evetts (b. 1858).

[2] The part which deals with Pope Tawadros I is Part III (out of four), which he published in PO, volume V, 1910, pp. 1-215, and covered the Lives of Patriarchs from Agathon (consecrated 661) to Michael I (d. 766).

[3] Later Lives of the Coptic Patriarchs were written in Arabic.

[4] I define Arabisation in the Coptic context as the process and phenomenon by which Egyptians/Copts stopped talking in their own Egyptian/Coptic language, and adopted Arabic as their main daily language. It is thus a process of language shift from Coptic to Arabic. For more on that, go here.

[5] The name “Shenouda” is made of the Egyptian words: she (=son), en- (=of) and nouti/noude (=God), thus meaning “the son of God”.

[6] Pope Shenouda III, of course, was the 117th Coptic Patriarch.

[7] Many bore the name such as Theodoros of Samos, the famous Greek artist in the 6th century BC.

[8] There appear to be two warrior saints carrying the name Theodore: Theodore of Amasea and Theodore Stratelates, both were martyred in the early 4th century. However, the two may be one. The Coptic legend of St. Theodore (whom they call “Tadrus تادرس”) does not give clear history. Alfred J. Butler gives a summary of the Legend of Mari Tadrus in his book The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt; Part Two (Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1884); pp. 363-364.

[9] See for that: John, Bishop of Nikiu: Chronicle (London, 1916). 

[10] Emile Maher Ishak, who is now Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak of Rochester, New York, completed his D.Phil thesis at the University of Oxford in 1975. The thesis is composed of four parts. The passage I have published here is to be found in p. 438. The thesis, which is 2130 pages long, is divided into four volumes, and has recently been made digitally available for the readers at copticsounds.

[11] As with all nations, when they borrow other nations’ names, they usually change it in form and pronunciation.

[12] This letter seems to be almost unique to Arabic that it is called “language of the ḍād”.

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