When I was studying history we took the matter of place names with great seriousness. Place names can tell you a great deal about those periods of British history when people were not writing very much. Connoisseurs will, for example, take one look at Washington and tell you that the original (which of course is in England) was settled by Anglo-Saxons. The 'ing' and 'ton' bits are a giveaway. Now I suppose, and taxi-drivers are eagerly looking forward to this, that with the end of the colonial era in Hong Kong we shall not wish to have odd bits of British history lying around the place. Imperial street names will be changed to something more Chinese. This is no trivial task. My copy of Hong Kong Streets And Places has 15 pages of street names. On the first page alone there are more than 100 which are more or less English. This is a small exaggeration. There seems to be few Chinese words between A Kung Nam and Che Fong Street. On other pages the local language scores better. Still you get the point. There must be several hundred streets still labelled with Western words. As of course is Western Street itself. Some of these are harmless references to pieces of municipal furniture. There is a Public Square Street in Mongkok, though there is no public square. There is a Station Lane in Hunghom, though it is nowhere near the station. Flower Market Road still has a flower market and Playing Field Road has the Mongkok Stadium. There are Temple Street, Mosque Street and Church Street. There is a Park Road and a Garden Road. Presumably the Joint Liaison Committee will not have to linger long over these. The translation of the English name will do, and no doubt already does for most purposes. The same can go for names in the botanical category. There is an epidemic of upmarket plants in Yau Yat Chuen and a complete set of trees in Tai Kok Tsui of all places. Clearly the person responsible for this outcrop was not a biologist because there is an Ivy Street in the middle of them, and there is no such thing as an ivy tree. The most objectionable ones, I suppose, are the former governors, of whom we have a complete set. It will be nice to see the back of Des Voeux Road, if only because nobody seems to know how to pronounce it. There is also the question of living members of the royal family, which seems to eliminate Princess Margaret Road, Queen's Street, Queen's Road in all directions and perhaps Queensway. I presume Edinburgh Place is named after the place, but who knows? And this, indeed, is a serious problem with the rest, which consist of an interesting collection of British place and family names. Who, for example, is the Dundas who has a street to himself in Mongkok. Is he the mediocre member of several British governments during the Napoleonic Wars, a theory supported by the presence of his boss, Pitt, two streets away? Or was he the Scottish town planner who was responsible for the outbreak of Caledonian counties which starts just to the north and sprawls as far as Shamshuipo? In this case it does not matter too much. In others the point is of some importance. Who, for example, is the Elgin in Elgin Street? It might be the man who ripped off the marbles from the Acropolis, a mildly embarrassing possibility. Or it might be the Elgin who burned the Winter Palace, in which case it will have to go. Both could be wrong. Another Elgin was the Lord Chancellor of great learning and no great haste who opened one of his judgments with the words: 'Having considered this well for 20 years . . .' Is Nelson Street a nod to the person or to the place? We have a Wellington but he is on the other side of the harbour. There are no other admirals (though the bus station under the Admiralty Centre used to be Drake Street) and we have a Waterloo but no Trafalgar. There is a Victory Avenue, but there is a Peace Avenue as well. I suppose they both date from 1918. I wish the handover team joy of these tricky matters. It will make no difference to me. When I lived in Paterson Street I baffled taxi drivers with my attempts at a Cantonese version of it. A proper Chinese name would probably be easier. Still, changing things over is a small nuisance. I would like to make it clear that Cornwall Street is not named after the duke of that place (though Duke Street may be) because we have Dorset, Kent and sundry other harmless counties nearby. Readers who remember the row when the original was abolished may be pleased to hear there is still a street in Kowloon Tong named after Rutland.