FEMININE TITLES IN ANCIENT EGYPT
All societies, ancient and modern, have sought to find ways to acknowledge the people who contribute more than most to their community. Medals are handed out to soldiers who perform particularly heroic deeds. Pictures and statues of leaders are displayed in public places. One very common method of honoring special people is to give them a title. Countess, duke and duchess would be examples used today in parts of Europe.
Ancient Egypt was a very hierarchical society, and as you might expect, titles were very important. There were three ways by which women could acquire a title: inheritance, marriage and merit. We know that all three of these ways were in operation, but at this point we do not have sufficient evidence to do more than guess which method was used for a specific title or which method a specific woman used to earn her titles.
The highest ranking women at any one time were the King's Mother and the King's Great Wife. Egyptian kings could and did have many wives. All bore the title King's Wife, but it was the Great Wife who took precedence at special ceremonies and it was her son who was first in line to inherit the throne. Occasionally a king, Amunhotep III, for example, is known to have had two Great Wives living at the same time. Whenever they were shown together in the same painting, however, only the senior was shown with the title; the other was then simply called King's Wife. As might be expected, there was considerable prestige attached to the titles of King's Sister and King's Daughter, whether the holder be related to the current king or his predecessor.
It will only take a few generations before the descendents of a King's Sister or a King's Brother will have to move out of the palace and live on their own. Such people could no longer consider themselves related to the current king, but they did form an aristocracy that could be called on to fill leadership roles in local governments. The most prominent men in this group bore the title Hereditary Nobleman (rpat). The female equivalent was Hereditary Noblewoman (rtpat). Older texts translated this word as "Hereditary Princess", but that expression has been abandoned as it called to mind the now discredited theory of an "Heiress Princess" whose husband became king. Also, not all the holders of this title were princesses in the sense that they were related to the reigning monarch. Since nobility implies heredity anyway, it might be simpler and more accurate to call her Noblewoman. The title corresponds to the British Duchess or the European Countess.
The titles Ornament of the King (Xkrt nsw) and Sole Ornament of the King (Xkrt nsw watt) were equivalent to the modern expression, Lady in Waiting. The word Sole did not mean unique but simply signified a higher rank. Further down the social ladder was the Servant of the Ruler. The women who held this title were married to rather junior officials so the "ruler" was likely a governor and not the king.
All of the above titles carried a large amount of prestige, but no responsibility or authority. A second category identifies a particular job and ranged from the lowly position of washerwoman all the way up to the one woman who held the rank of Vizier, the top bureaucrat in the country. The percentage of women in high office was relatively small but significant enough to suggest it was more than an aberration. Some scholars have argued that women could supervise other women but could not supervise men.
The most common titles in this category referred to a religious function. In the Old Kingdom the priesthood was a part time job filled by community minded members of the middle and upper classes, who devoted one or two months a year to the service of their god. Many women bore the title Priestess (Hmt nTr) of Hathor, Neith and occasionally some other deity. Musicians (xnr) danced and played musical instruments under the leadership of the Great Musician (wrt xnr). The usual title for women in the choir was Singer (Hsyt)
By the New Kingdom the priesthood gradually turned into a full time profession. Although two women held the very prominent office of Second Prophet of Amun and Mut respectively, women were largely confined to musical roles in the temple. A very common title at this time was Musician (Smayt) These women regularly served both gods and goddesses and were shown on temple and tomb walls carrying a sistrum or tambourine.
The title Mistress of the House (nbt pr) was available to any woman who owned or was married to someone who owned a house. Many women bore the title with pride, but others seem to have regarded it as a meaningless affectation. In legal documents women were often referred to as citizeness (anx niwt).