A Gazetteer of Place Names in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories

This is a book that I came across in the university library today, by accident, the title of which caught my eye. As it suggests, the book is a gazetteer of place names in Hong Kong; it was published by the Government Printer in 1960, and as such carries the official place names valid as of that year.

Each entry includes the corresponding Chinese name (but omitted for some) and the grid reference (different to the WGS84 datum used today). The descriptions give information on what names the Government considered to be incorrect, truncated, or should be replaced. The book also frequently makes references to the 1957 1:25000 official map of Hong Kong, and provided a comprehensive list of errata in the descriptions (!).

Consider the following excerpt (p.90):

The Victoria Sector
This Sector includes the whole of the City of Victoria (a name seldom used), …

A number of place names in this sector have fallen out of use as reclamation as development have progressed and original landmarks have disappeared; examples are West Point (now seldom used), East Point (very rarely used), Belcher Point (never used). …

It thus appears that some names we learn from history books are not much more than being used on Colonial era official documents, not even widespread in everyday usage (an elderly person might tell it though), and it applies to East Point, Belcher Point, even the City of Victoria (!!!).

Now consider this image (from gwulo.com) and compare it to the entry for Bowrington (p.92): http://gwulo.com/sites/gwulo.com/files/styles/large/public/images/1_25000_map_1957___l8811_0.jpg?itok=w4H4K7uA

Bowrington; KV094669; 575985; never used other than in the name of a road and a nullah; should be omitted from the official maps.

(Note: the nullah is what Hongkongers commonly call 鵝頸)

Google Bowrington, and it seems that the name is more than that. Perhaps naming an entire area after Governor Bowring was the original intent, and perhaps the Government in 1960 wanted to suppress the use of the name?

On p.116 – because

Chai Wan; 柴灣; … This district and bay name of Chai Wan has appeared incorrectly as Sai Wan on maps of the Colony for many years…

This despite Sai Wan Ho (which not even this gazetteer dare call incorrect!) and the historically significant Sai Wan War Cemetery. Anyway, (also on p.116)

Ma Tong or Siu Chai Wan; 馬塘 or 小柴灣; KV165647; 654965; a small bay NW of Cape Collinson on which the R.A.F. wireless station is established. The name Ma Tong is not now used locally; Siu Chai Wan is the common name. This bay is incorrectly named Little Sai Wan on the 1:25000 official map (Sheet 19, 1957 Edition).

How interesting that we now call there (presently a residential area) Siu Sai Wan 小西灣! Try asking directions to 小柴灣 next time and see if you are understood.

As a gazetteer from the 1960s it provides an excellent guide to Hong Kong back then, especially for Kowloon and New Territories where hundreds of villages were about to be deserted or wiped out in the decades of rapid urbanization to come. Consider Sai Tau Tsuen 西頭村, Lai Chi Yuen 荔枝園 (from Kowloon City, p.123). Wang Shan Keuk 橫山腳 (p.194; 1955 population: 65) and Tai No 大腦 (p.139; 1955 population: 80) are now deserted. There are, of course, still plenty of villages that thrive today.

The “correctness” and “incorrectness” as indicated in this gazetteer may be seen as an official “manual of style” of names, or how the Government wished the names to be rendered (for example how Hong Kong, Wan Chai and Yau Ma Tei should not be written as Hongkong, Wanchai and Yaumati). Nevertheless, names are created, and it’s always up to the speaker/writer for names as long as they are understood. And this book is much more significant as a snapshot of late 1950s Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, Colonial Secretariat. A Gazetteer of Place Names in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. Hong Kong, Government Printer, 1960.


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