While visiting Macau with my boyfriend, Jason, we played a game of translating the street signs. As Macau has two official languages, Portuguese and Cantonese, all the street names are displayed in both languages. I was curious to see how many of the names actually match up when translated. Here are a few interesting discoveries (Cantonese translated by Jason, Portuguese translated by me).
Many of the street names are actually the same when translated.
(Although, as far as I can tell, there’s no bridge on the street, black or otherwise)
Names of Places or People
Some of the streets are name after famous Portuguese places and people; some are named for famous places or people in China. Most of the time, these names are written to sound the same in the other language.
Cunha (pronounced coon-ya) is a common Portuguese surname. The Cantonese name of this street is pronounced goon-ya gai. It’s clear that the naming authorities used chinese characters to create a name as close as possible to Cunha. (The Cantonese word “gai” means street and “rua” means street in Portuguese.)
Foshan is a city in the Guangdong province of China (closest province to Macau). The literal translation of the Chinese characters is “Buddha Mountain.” I guess when the Portuguese tried to write this name “Fat San” was the closest they could get.
Somewhat Similar but Not Exactly
A few of the translations we came across proved interesting.
Mercador is merchant in Portguese but the Cantonese translation is where things get fun. The first character is “mai” (pronounced with rising tone) which means “buying” and the second “mai” (pronounced with a falling tone) means “selling.” So the meaning is essentially the same, but it’s not quite a direct translation.
“Horta” means “garden” and “caminho” means “walk” in Portuguese. We gain a little bit more information when reading the Chinese, as the first 2 characters translate to “vegetable garden.”
Perhaps one of my favorite street names. Like Merchant Street, the overall meaning is the same, but when taken individually, the Chinese characters tell a great story. ”Lin lei” refers to two trees that grow closely with one another and their branches become entwined. This image is often used to symbolize to the love between a husband and wife as they grow old together.
Some of the most fun we had while translating was the find the street names that have little or no connection to their counterparts.
The first sign in this photo is “Sport Street” in Portuguese and “Body Sport Street” in Chinese, no big difference there. However, the sign on the right is another story all together. The Cantonese name “dei bo” means “bunker” but the Portuguese word “regedor” means “alderman.”
In Portuguese “gaivota” is a seagull and in Cantonese “shui ap” is a mallard. So, both are birds and both live near water, but they are definitely not the same bird.
This street name is my hands-down favorite. The Portuguese translation is “Witches’ Lane,” which I love because: A- witches are cool and B- where else would you find a street named “Witches’ Lane”? The Cantonese translation “sin loi gong” means “Saint Lady Lane.” So which (witch?) kind of lady is she?
One Last Funny
There are many many more street names out there, obviously. I didn’t even cross over the Macau or Coloane, so perhaps more exploration is in order. I will leave you with another favorite of mine.
The translation isn’t the interesting aspect of this alley. Both Portuguese and Cantonese translate to “good view alley.” It’s also not a unique name, variations can be found all over the world. Buena Vista and Buona Vista are common names for streets and towns, usually named for their scenic outlooks.
See more street signs here.