HK Magazine Archive

Hong Kong's Top 8 Wrongly Translated Street Names

What's wrong with Rednaxela Terrace?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:26pm

Hong Kong: bilingual city. Well, most of the time. Occasionally, our streets don't quite line up as we'd like them to.

1) Streets named after royal personages regularly get lost in translation. “Queen” in English can be the wife of a king, or the female ruler of a kingdom. Queen’s Road, built in the mid-19th century, was named for Queen Victoria. But instead of using the Chinese phrase for “queen” in the sense of “sovereign ruler” (which would have been neoi wong, 女皇), translators rendered the name as wong hau, meaning “king’s consort.” Victoria would not have been amused…

2) North Point Power Station, which was decommissioned in 1978, gave Power Street its English name. However, the Chinese name describes a different type of power: The words daai (大) and koeng (強) mean “big” and “strong,” respectively, and have no connection with electricity.

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3) “Lascar” in British English refers to the Indian seamen who served in the British Merchant Navy: In the past, many Indian sailors bunked in this area, and the British thus named it “Lascar Row.” The Chinese at the time thought that Indians were “Musselmen” (Muslims from the Middle East), and adopted the spoken Cantonese word mo lo (摩羅), a term denoting Muslims (like “moor”), into its name.

4) When British officials named this street in Wan Chai, the “spring” in Spring Garden Lane referred to a water spring. The translator, though, understood “spring” to be the season. The Chinese name, therefore, is “garden in spring season.”

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5) Numerous Hong Kong streets are named after tree species found around the city, most chosen by British officials during colonial times. Fir Street's name in English refers to the fir tree, but the Chinese translation does not match, and instead reads “Pine Tree Street.”

6) Another in the series of streets named after trees, Pine Street’s situation is a reversal of the case above: In Chinese, Pine Street is called “Fir Tree Street.” Confused yet?

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7) Rather than using the wrong tree species, here the Chinese translated the name of Sycamore Street directly from its pronunciation. In doing so, the translator came up with rather a nice name: Si go mou means “poems, singing and dancing.”

8) “Rednaxela” is neither a proper English word nor a name of someone famous, but was created by Chinese sign writers owing to a fundamental misunderstanding around letter order.  Traditionally, words in Chinese are read from right to left, while English is read from left to right. If you read “Rednaxela” backwards, it becomes “Alexander,” which is believed to have been the intended name of the terrace.