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The Stories Behind 10 Hong Kong Street Names

Picture of Sally Gao
Updated: 30 November 2016
As a former British colony, Hong Kong’s street names contain a rich history that even locals may not know about. With a little help from a volume titled Signs of a Colonial Era, written by Andrew Yanne and Grillis Heller, we’ve rounded up 10 Hong Kong street names with the quirkiest and most interesting stories behind them.

Rednaxela Terrace

Located in SoHo, this pedestrian path was originally named ‘Alexander Terrace’ after the owner of the property that the road belonged to. However, a clerical error resulted in the name being written backwards – hence, ‘Rednaxela Terrace.’

Stone Nullah Lane

Passersby in Wan Chai unfamiliar with this Anglo-Indian word might wonder: ‘What’s a nullah?’ It turns out, that the word nullah is of Hindi origin and refers to a ravine or narrow valley through which a stream of water flows. This street refers to a stream that used to come down from the hill where Ruttonjee Hospital sits.

Sugar Street

This street in Causeway Bay was named after the short-lived China Sugar Refinery Company, which was founded in the early 1870s by Jardine Matheson & Co., only to be destroyed by a typhoon in 1874.

Matt@PEK/Flickr
Matt@PEK/Flickr

Beacon Hill Road

In the 17th century, the Qing Emperor Kangxi ordered that all villages down the South China coast be evacuated and burned in order to fight the anti-Qing rebellion under the leadership of the pirate Koxinga. The modern residential area of Beacon Hill in Kowloon Tong was so named because a garrison, called a beacon, was established to enforce this decree.

Tai Koo Shing Road

Tai koo (太古), literally meaning ‘too ancient,’ is the Chinese name for the Swire Group, a British conglomerate that owns large swaths of property in Asia. Legend has it that John Samuel Swire, the founder of the company, visited China in around 1870 and noticed a Lunar New Year poster bearing the phrase dai gat dai lei (大吉大利), meaning ‘great luck and great profit.’ Swire took a liking to the phrase, but when he returned to his office to write down his company’s new Chinese name, he wrote the characters dai gat (大吉) incorrectly, and ended up with tai koo (太古) instead.

Nathan Road

The oldest road in Kowloon and one of Hong Kong’s major thoroughfares, Nathan Road was built in the 1860s and was originally named Robinson Road, after Hercules Robinson, the fifth governor of Hong Kong. In 1909, its name was changed to Nathan Road, after Sir Matthew Nathan, the 13th governor. During his tenure as governor, Nathan made major steps to establish Hong Kong’s central urban planning and reconstruction policies.

Connie Ma/Flickr
Connie Ma/Flickr

New Praya Kennedy Town

This street on the Kennedy Town waterfront has the interesting quirk of containing the word praya, a Portuguese term which was imported into Hong Kong from Macau, and which means ‘a road built next to a seawall.’

Jubilee Street

Running between Des Voeux Road and Queen’s Road Central, this street was named in 1887 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, also known as her Golden Jubilee.

Electric Street and Electric Road

Electric Street in Wan Chai and Electric Road in North Point are both named after power plants built by Hongkong Electric. In 1913, the North Point power plant was built to replace the one in Wan Chai, although it didn’t begin operation until 1919 due to World War I.

Lan Kwai Fong

Filled with clubs, bars and restaurants, Lan Kwai Fong is Hong Kong’s most popular nightlife district. There are a few competing stories as to how Lan Kwai Fong (蘭桂坊) got its name. It literally means ‘orchid cinnamon square’ but loosely translates to ‘street filled with orchids and fragrances.’ One story has it that the area was named after the street hawkers and flower shops that dominated the area prior to World War II. However, another story says that it was named for being a red-light district for British soldiers in the colony’s early days. Locals dubbed the area Lan Gwei Fong (爛鬼坊), or ‘rotten ghost place.’ In this context, gwei, meaning ‘ghost,’ is short for gweilo, a derogatory term for Caucasians.

travelwayoflife/Flickr
travelwayoflife/Flickr