According to legend, as related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaohMenes. It was the Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom and remained an important city throughout ancient Egyptian history. It occupied a strategic position at the mouth of the Nile Delta, and was home to bustling activity. Its principal port, Peru-nefer, featured a high density of workshops, factories, and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the ancient kingdom. During its golden age, Memphis thrived as a regional centre for commerce, trade, and religion.
Memphis was believed to be under the protection of the god Ptah, the patron of craftsmen. Its great temple, Hut-ka-Ptah (meaning "Enclosure of the ka of Ptah"), was one of the most prominent structures in the city. The name of this temple, rendered in Greek as Aἴγυπτoς (Ai-gy-ptos) by the historian Manetho, is believed to be the etymological origin of the modern English name Egypt.
Because of its size, the city also came to be known by various other names that were actually the names of neighbourhoods or districts that enjoyed considerable prominence at one time or another. For example, according to a text of the First Intermediate Period, it was known as Djed-Sut ("everlasting places"), which is the name of the pyramid of Teti.
The city was also at one point referred to as Ankh-Tawy (meaning "Life of the Two Lands"), stressing the strategic position of the city between Upper and Lower Egypt. This name appears to date from the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1640 BCE), and is frequently found in ancient Egyptian texts. Some scholars maintain that this name was actually that of the western district of the city that lay between the great Temple of Ptah and the necropolis at Saqqara, an area that contained a sacred tree.
At the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BCE), the city became known as mn-nfr (anglicized as Men-nefer, meaning "enduring and beautiful"), which became "Memfi" (ⲙⲉⲙϥⲓ) in Bohairic Coptic. The name "Memphis" (Μέμφις) is the Greek adaptation of this name, which was originally the name of the pyramid of Pepi I,[Fnt 1] located west of the city. However, Greek poet Hesiod in his Theogony says that Memphis was a daughter of river god Nilus and the wife of Epaphus (the son of Zeus and Io), who founded the city and named it after his wife.