In the old days, Hong Kong’s streets were first christened in English before being translated into Chinese. Some things got lost in translation but have curiously remained until today. Many of us are blissfully oblivious to such mistakes! Having lived in Hong Kong for all our lives, our professional guides at Walk in Hong Kong have come up with 6 levels of wrongly translated street names in the city…
Level 1: Missing the Point
We’ve all seen how things go hilariously wrong with translations in China, thanks to the blight/boon of online translators. But mistranslations because of a word’s multiple meanings are nothing new.
Pound Lane 磅巷
In the quaint area of Sheung Wan lies Pound Lane, whose name came from the street’s past function as a cattle pound. But its Chinese name was mistakenly translated to the scale that you weigh objects with… Superstitious folks might prefer if it was translated to the British Pound £££! If you want to know more about the tales of Pound Lane and its hipster neighbourhood, join us on our Old Town Central tour!
Power Street 大強街
Electric Road and Power Street are two intersecting streets in North Point. They were named after the power plant that once dominated the area. While the Chinese name of Electric Road is a literal translation from English, Power Street somehow turned into Thor-like super strength in Chinese!
Spring Garden Lane 春園街
Another Google Translate-style mishap involves Wan Chai’s Spring Garden Lane, whose name came from a fountain in a plush villa, hence the allusion to a water spring. However, the Chinese name of the street mistakes ‘spring’ as the season after winter, which, though inaccurate, lends a poetic flavour to this part of town. Book our What Do Ghosts Eat? Wan Chai Ghosts & Food Tour to visit the traffic-choked Spring Garden Lane for yummy snacks and spooky stories!
Level 2: Wrong Pronunciations
Did you know that around 60% of English words contain silent letters? Clearly the officers who translated some of the city’s early street names weren’t aware of that, and this inevitably resulted in some not-so-accurate Chinese translations, such as…
Bonham Road 般咸道／Chatham Road 漆咸道／Fenwick Street 分域街
H and w in the above words are silent letters, so the Chinese names of these streets – Boon-HAM, Chat-HAM, and Fun-WICK are wrongly transliterated. If you’re a native English speaker and you think nothing is so difficult about your language, challenge yourself to this test!
Level 3: Challenged by Mother Nature
Lily Street 蓮花街／Hawthorn Road 荷塘道
If you are bilingual in English and Chinese, you would know that Lily Street in Tai Hang does not correspond to its Chinese name, Lotus Street. This confusion probably came from the name of the nearby Lotus Temple. Speaking of which, Happy Valley’s Hawthorn Road is translated to Lotus Pond (pronounced as Haw-tong that sounds like Hawthorn) Road, while hawthorn itself is a genus of trees and shrubs. So if you want to learn the Chinese names of certain plants, we advise you not to use Hong Kong street names as guides. Walk with us on our Island Architecture Walk to learn about the history of Lotus Temple, amongst other wonderful buildings!
Fir Street 松樹街／Pine Street 杉樹街／Sycamore Street 詩歌舞街／Cassia Road 高槐路
Local Chinese people are not known to order fresh Christmas trees for their homes when December comes, so it’s no wonder that the Chinese names of Fir and Pine Streets – both in Tai Kok Tsui – got mixed up! Some other streets in the area are also arboreally named, e.g. Sycamore Street. But rather than giving it a cursed literal translation of Mo-fa-gwor Street or Flowerless-fruit Street (scientifically correct but inauspicious), it’s gracefully transliterated to Si-gor-mo Street (which sounds a tad bit like Sycamore), i.e. Poem-song-dance Street.
Level 4: Smart-arse Problems
Hammer Hill Road 斧山道
Hammer Hill Road in Diamond Hill is translated to Axe Hill Road in Chinese. Although both of them are tools, they have completely different uses! Were government officials that careless even in the past? Someone speculated that this might have been done on purpose, for hammer was a Sichuanese swear word and the officials didn’t want the street name to have an inappropriate association to it. Next time you want to get a hammer from a hardware store, make sure to learn the right vocabs otherwise you might be handed an axe!
Level 5: Sorry Boss!
Queen Victoria Street 域多利皇后街／Queen’s Road Central 皇后大道中
One of the worst – or most exciting – mistakes one can ever commit is to enrage your boss, especially when the chief concerned is no other than Her Majesty (at least in the old days)! The Chinese word for queen can mean either the empress of a sovereign, or the wife of a reigning king. The Chinese names of Queen Victoria Street and Queen’s Road both take the latter meaning. The bumbling scribe who was responsible for this almighty faux-pas should be grateful that he didn’t live in a place like North Korea!
Level 6: Utter Disorientation
Rednaxela Terrace 列拿士地台
As weird as Rednaxela might look, don’t you think it seems strangely familiar at the same time? It is indeed the word Alexander spelt backwards! Traditional Chinese transcribes words from right to left, and we suspect this is why officials who were in-charge of street name registration mistook the word as Rednaxela!
Not only street names, these laughable inaccuracies exist around us and add flavour to our otherwise ordinary daily lives. Especially when we are now living in an insane and ridiculous world that is 2022, you would’ve already learnt to be stoic and accept such tiny mistakes…