Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

What if MTR station names are translated literally? 地名意譯的港鐵圖

As somebody who loves the railways, my interest immediately extends to railway maps. It’s quite common to mess around with the underground map in London; but doing that is too mainstream. Rather, how about if I do something to the Hong Kong MTR map?

With Cantonese place names in Hong Kong, its English name is the simply a phonetic transliteration. As a result you get names that are almost impossible to pronounce correctly without Cantonese knowledge. Moreover, the toponymy of some Hong Kongese place names are actually different in Cantonese and English, further complicating the issue.

香港地名的英文翻譯大多只是直接的音譯:如是者難讀的地名甚多,而且毫無意義。像「牛頭角」這樣好玩的地名,在英文中就完全消失了。此外,香港還有很多中英文名字由來沒有關係的地名…

假若將地名意譯,香港的地鐵圖會是什麼樣子的呢?

Instead of a translation by phonetics, how about one by meaning?

Rather than ‘Mong Kok’ and ‘Causeway Bay’, how about ‘Prosperous Corner’ and ‘Gong Bay’? (Click to enlarge)

Please read further for rules and explanations for less obvious translations. 翻譯的規則和較特別的譯名,請按入看詳情。

Rules of Translation

  • The Chinese station names as shown on the MTR map is standard.
  • For station names where its Chinese definition is not obvious, I used their original meaning where possible. The research is done with the utmost authority in the world aka the internet.
  • A few names have their Chinese characters changed for good fortune. This ‘fortunate’ version is translated.
  • Stations with Chinese names transliterated from English, and those already with a literal translation are left unaltered.
  • I have joined up some station names as Western place names rarely exceed 3 words.

p.s. I’ve received some very warm feedback for this and thanks to all for that. Many Cantonese speakers have kindly suggested that the translation was not precise enough and ignored the original etymology for a few places. (Admiralty, for example)

I want to make it clear that the purpose of this exercise is to let the non-Chinese speakers among us to have some ideas as to what the MTR map is actually saying to the Chinese speakers. Indeed, that’s why Prince Edward Station was changed despite the Chinese version having pretty much- but not exactly- the same meaning. Hence, this is a literal, and not (necessarily) a precise version.

翻譯的規則
  • 翻譯以港鐵圖上的中文名稱作準。
  • 若車站的中文名字看來無甚意思,我盡量從網上找到名稱的由來,然後把它們譯成英文。
  • 很多地名的用字因要「好意頭」而被改過。我譯了「好意頭」的名字。
  • 本身中文名是英文音譯,又或者英文名已是中文意譯車站名字不作改動。
  • 英語系的地方多數不超3個字,所以我把部份的譯名連了起來。

Couple of Observations

  • Public Housing Estates, take a bow. I would quite like to live in ‘Utmost Peace’ or ‘Permanent Security’. Would avoid ‘Bright Screen’ though, and I am not sure what ‘Trillion Health’ is going to get me.
  • ‘I live in No. 1 City,’ is not a bad claim either.
  • There’s a Red Cliff in the middle of the Victoria harbour. War hazard caution.
  • The Irony of LOHAS Park being called ‘Health City’ when there’s a huge landfill right next to it.

More Obscure Translations 較特別的譯名

Original Name 原名
My Translation 翻譯
Notes
Tsing Yi 青衣
Quarry Bay 鰂魚涌
Blackspot Tuskfish
Goldfish Stream
Both came from fish species. 青衣 is straightforward. 鰂魚 is more complicated: goldish is a subset. (The alternative would its academic name, Carassius Auratus)
鰂魚的學名太長了,用金魚(鰂魚的一種)較簡潔
Che Kung Temple 車公廟
Nam Cheong 南昌
Wong Tai Sin 黃大仙
Che Kung Temple
Nanchang
WongTaiSin
All are proper nouns. Changed Nam Cheong’s spelling to pinyin to fit the city in China
車公和黃大仙都已經是英文名了。南昌來由江西省同名的城市,所以把英文換作普通話拼音
Mei Foo 美孚
Tai Koo太古
Mobil
Swire
Both transliteration of company names. Their english name is used here
公司譯名,用回了其英文名
LOHAS Park 康城
Prince Edward 太子
Health City
Crown Prince
While the Chinese translation came from the English, their meanings differ slightly
雖然中文名來自英文,但實際意義有些少不同
Sham Shui Po 深水埗
Tai Po Market 大埔墟
Deepwater Pier
Great Port Market
Both and implies port. is apparently smaller in scale
埗和埔兩字都有港口的意思
Fo Tan 火炭
Fire Beach
From Hakka 火灘 (“Fire Beach”)
從客家話的「火灘」發音而來
Lo Wu 羅湖
Shell Lake
Originally 螺湖
原作螺湖
Yuen Long 元朗
Plentiful Lowland
The difficult one. According to Wikipedia, 元朗 was evolved from 圓蓢and 元塱. ‘‘ means ‘perfect’ or ‘plentiful’, while ‘‘ suggests that it was a wet lowland by the river.
最難就呢個。維基說元朗一名來自圓蓢和元塱兩名。「圓」有「圓滿」的意思,而「塱」指的是河邊的低地。
Shek Kip Mei 石硤尾
Gorge End
comes from ‘gorge’
Kam Sheung Road 綿上路
Brocade-Upper Road
The road between 綿田(Brocade fields) and 上村 (Upper Village)
在綿田和上村之間的道路
Po Lam 寶琳
Pauline
The funny one. Po Lam was named after the wife of the priest in a nearly sanatorium. So I invented a similar name to keep the spirit!
據聞「寶琳」一名是療養院牧師太太的名字。直接寫 Po Lam有點無聊,所以作了個名。
Sheung Wan 上環
Upper
is most likely boundaries of the City of Victoria at the beginning of colonial times. Considered ‘Upper Victoria’, but went with ‘Upper’ so it is in the same style as Central.
四環九約是維多利亞城的邊界。因要與中環Central看來差不多,就只寫了Upper
Not gonna lie, that took a lot longer than I thought. But it is actually quite fun. Also in the process I managed to amuse myself with a couple of inappropriate/ politically incorrect/ downright vulgar names in the process, so there is another map coming maybe? Map from the MTR website.

15 Responses to “What if MTR station names are translated literally? 地名意譯的港鐵圖

  • Anonymous
    3 years ago

    Great work and very amusing!
    It’s not really necessary to alter the ones which already had English names: Prince Edward, North Point, Asia Expo… Because it’s probably the Chinese that was wrong in the first place.
    Don’t really agree that the proper name ones (Che Kung Temple, Nanchang, WongTaiSin) do not need translation.
    Perhaps:
    CKT >> Charioteer Temple
    NC >> Properous South
    WTS >> Grand Angel, or Angel Wong ..(?)

    • Thank you for your comment!
      Again, I would like to point out that the map is aimed at non-Chinese speakers. Very likely because of errors in the Chinese version, the these places the Chinese and English names have a slightly different meaning. So for the purpose of this exercise I think I should translate them as well.
      As to the proper names, Che Kung and Wong Tai Sin is certainly debatable. I just thought that, regarding these two deities, people might actually know who they are with transliterations intact.
      As to Nanchang, sources (admittedly wikipedia et al) claim that the names came from Nam Cheong Street. There are two theories as to how this came about: One argues that it comes from the city in China and the other claims that it’s a name. Now, according to my rules a name wouldn’t have been changed (see Po Lam) so I went with the other because I can do more about it!

    • Brendan USA
      3 years ago

      I agree, Justin. It’s instructive to me as an English-speaker to know that the proper name “Edward” has disappeared from the Chinese name, which means “Crown Prince!” Also, Wong Tai Sin has no meaning to non-Chinese speakers, so it’s nice to know that it means something like “Archangel” or “Fairy Chief.” while “Yuen Long” could be “Bountiful Marsh” or “High-Yielding Swamp”–a river bank that can put money into your bank!

    • Hi Brendan, thank you for your comment too. I’ve been getting quite a bit of feedbacks regarding the Wong Tai Sin/Che Kung issue. The logic was that sources (again, admittedly wikipedia et al) refer to them in the transliterated way, and so I thought it’s easier to keep it so if people want to look into them further.
      But yeah, I am having second thoughts on this. Charioteer Temple as suggested above sounds great!

  • Anonymous
    3 years ago

    Very Funny.

    For Yuen Long, instead of “Plentiful Lowland”, how about “Fertile Wetland”? I heard before that that place was famous for rice growing, and it is “lowland” because it is by the river mouth, which should be a wetland?

    • I like the idea. It sounds less like those names forced upon new tower blocks

  • Hi Justin,

    Great map. We wrote up a short article about it and it is now live on our site: http://www.localiiz.com/social/what-does-it-all-mean-the-literal-translation-of-hong-kongs-mtr-map#.U0zS6sfWY8T

    We’ll be pushing it out on our social media outlets as well. I hope this helps!

    Best,
    The Localiiz Team

  • I am truely disappointed. You missed the Great Wong Fairy.

    • In the updated version, I had him a ‘Wong the Great Immortal’ instead. What do you think?

  • Anonymous
    3 years ago

    Dear Justin: my name is Chris, and I own Home Essentials (33 Lyndhurst Terrace) in Hong Kong. Would you please contact me at chris.exline@homeessentials.net about your MTR Map? Thank you.

  • That map got us at China Real Time wondering about the literal translations of Beijing s subway station names. We couldn’t fit all 200+ stations, so we narrowed it down to some with the best translations.

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