In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. They came into common use during the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty under Pharaoh Sneferu, but earlier examples date to the mid Second Dynasty on Cylinder Seals of Seth-Peribsen. While the cartouche is usually vertical with a horizontal line, if it makes the name fit better it can be horizontal, with a vertical line at the end (in the direction of reading).
The Ancient Egyptian word for it was shenu, and it was essentially an expanded shen ring. In Demotic, the cartouche was reduced to a pair of brackets and a vertical line.
Of the five royal titularies it was the prenomen, the throne name, and the "Son of Ra" titulary, the so-called nomen name given at birth, which were enclosed by a cartouche.
At times amulets were given the form of a cartouche displaying the name of a king and placed in tombs. Such items are often important to archaeologists for dating the tomb and its contents. Cartouches were formerly only worn by Pharaohs. The oval surrounding their name was meant to protect them from evil spirits in life and after death. The cartouche has become a symbol representing good luck and protection from evil. Egyptians believed that one who had their name recorded somewhere would not disappear after death. A cartouche attached to a coffin satisfied this requirement. There were periods in Egyptian history when people refrained from inscribing these amulets with a name for fear they might fall into somebody's hands, conferring power over the bearer of the name.
The term cartouche was first applied by French soldiers who fancied that the symbol they saw so frequently repeated on the pharaonic ruins they encountered resembled a muzzle-loading firearm's paper powder cartridge (cartouche in French).
Besides the cartouche hieroglyph use for the word 'name', the cartouche in half-section, Gardiner no. V11,
, has a separate meaning in the Egyptian language as a determinative for actions and nouns dealing with items: "to divide", "to exclude".
The cartouche hieroglyph,
, is used as a determinative for Egyptian language ?n-(sh)n, for "circuit", or "ring"-(like the shen ring or the cartouche). Later it came to be used for rn, the word 'name'. The word can also be spelled as "r" with "n", the mouth over the horizontal n,