“How do you pronounce ‘Rednaxela’ in Rednaxela Terrace in Mid-levels, Hong Kong Island? It is hard even for native speakers, isn’t it? If you take a closer look at the name, you will realise it should have been ‘Alexander’, but for some reason it was spelt the other way round,” Prof Lau Chi-pang of Department of History, Lingnan University, told the audience at the public seminar on “Hong Kong History Behind the Street Names” on 15 June.
“What seems most interesting is that no one bothers to correct it all over the years!” he said.
Prof Lau began his seminar with a review of the history of naming the streets in Hong Kong from early colonial years through the twenty-first century. Since the early years of British colonial rule, English names had been given first, followed by Chinese translations. But this practice was reversed in 1963, when the Street Name Select Committee of the Urban Council then issued a set of guidelines, which specifically stated that Chinese names should precede English translations. The guidelines also defined what kind of access should be named “road” or “street”, although the definitions were for reference only. Unlike the common practice in early colonial years, roads and streets could no longer be named after any living individual according to the 1963 guidelines.
Towards the end of the seminar, Prof Lau shared maps and photos of some streets with great historical significance to Hong Kong, such as Possession Street, Boundary Street, Chung Ying Street and Hollywood Road, and explained the origins of their names. He also summarised the categories of street names in Hong Kong, which were named after the British royal family and officials, Chinese and expatriate elites in Hong Kong, local and foreign enterprises, industries, historical sites, and Chinese cities and provinces. While the categories shed some light on different aspects of Hong Kong history, Prof Lau added, it is no longer the case as most street names in newly developed areas are comprised of auspicious words that carry little relevance or significance to the history of the local community.
The seminar was organised by the Hong Kong Public Libraries, Leisure and Cultural Services Department.