The Egyptian version of of the name "Memphis", Mn-nfr, "the beautiful monument" was used originally for the pyramid of Pepi I, but from the 18th Dynasty on, this name was extended to cover the entire region or city where this pyramid was built. It is not known why the name of a monument of relatively minor importance, such as Pepi I's pyramid as compared to the pyramid of Kheops in Giza, became the name of the entire city.
The original name given to this city and used together with the name Mn-nfr, was inb-hD "the White Wall(s)", a reference to the white walls surrounding it.
According to Manetho, the city of Memphis was founded by Menes soon after the unification of Egypt. This is supported by the fact that the oldest known tombs of any importance were built at that period, but it needs to be noted that the area was inhabited even before Narmer's reign.
During the Old Kingdom, it served as the nation's capital and it held the kings' primary residence. The end of the Old Kingdom by no means meant the end of Memphis as one of the most important cities in Egypt. Quite to the contrary! Memphis remained the political and administrative center of Lower- and Middle-Egypt. This importance was recognised even by the Theban kings of the 18th Dynasty. Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II often held residence at Memphis and to be accepted as a king of Egypt, one needed to be crowned at Memphis.
After the turmoil of the Amarna-revolution at the end of the 18th Dynasty, Tutankhamun took up residence, not at Thebes, which was the capital of his predecessors (except Akhenaten), but at Memphis. The Ramesside kings, whose primary residence was the city Per-Ramesses in the Delta, too, recognised the importance of Memphis. One of Ramesses II's army divisions was named in honour of the Memphite god Ptah; and one of his sisters, Tiya, was buried at its necropolis, along with many other New Kingdom officials and dignitaries.
Memphis was also the principal place of the cult of the god Ptah, who is accepted as a creator-god in the region. The many temples built for him, his 'wife' Sekhmet and their 'son' Nefertem now lie in ruins, or have been demolished, destroyed and stripped of their decoration to be dispersed throughout the world. It is from one of these temples, Hw.t-kA-PtH (Hut-Ka-Ptah) "the mansion of the Ka of Ptah" that the Greeks derived the name Aegyptos, hence the modern name Egypt.
The principal necropolis associated with Memphis were Saqqara and Giza, although other places to the West of the city were sometimes favoured as burial place as well.