Street names of George Town, Penang

The street names of George Town, reflect the multicultural heritage of the city, the capital of a former British settlement of Penang, now part of Malaysia, which has a largely Chinese population.

Most streets in the city were built and named during the colonial era, and the historic English names generally remain and are still used by most Penangites. Since the passage of the National Language Act 1967, government policy has been to use the Malay language for all official purposes, and the Malay translations of the street names are the official versions that are used on street signs.

Traditional Chinese names

In addition to the official English and Malay names, many streets in central George Town have a mostly unrelated and original set of road names in Penang Hokkien, the language of the majority of Penang's majority Malaysian Chinese community. These are noted in the table below using the "Peh-oe-ji" notation common in Taiwan. As the Hokkien names cited here are not official, and are based on an oral tradition, they may be out of date. For the derivation of the Hokkien names, see the reference links at the bottom of this article.

Many streets also have Cantonese names that are less well-known and are not documented here.

Changes in street names

Since independence, there have been some changes to the official names of some streets, which are noted below in their Malay forms. On the whole, however, like Singapore and unlike many other cities in Malaysia, George Town has retained most of its colonial street names, although until recently they have been indicated on street signs only in their Malay translations.

Until 2007, street signs in George Town were only written in Malay, as a result of the national language policy. Unfortunately, this had the effect of confusing tourists, who found it difficult to match the English names commonly used by Penangites with the Malay names on street signs which were often very different. In the case of proper nouns, the English name is easily recognisable, e.g. Kimberley Street is "Lebuh Kimberley". In other cases, however, the Malay translation may be unfamiliar to those who do not speak the language, e.g. Church St is literally translated as "Lebuh Gereja" (from the Portuguese "igreja"). A few streets have been given completely new names in Malay.

Even where official street names have changed, the local population have largely continued informally to use the old names when referring to streets. This is partly because the new names are often unwieldy (e.g. Green Lane vs "Jalan Masjid Negeri", or Northam Road vs "Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah"), but also reflects a strong conservatism in the local population, who see Penang's colonial history as part of their local identity. Several years ago, when Scott Road was renamed to the tongue-twisting "Jalan D S Ramanathan", after the first Mayor of the City of George Town, the new street signs were repeatedly defaced and had to be replaced many times, eventually forcing the city authorities to fix a replacement street sign fifteen feet up a lamppost (instead of at waist-height, as was then usual).

Street sign design

Since 2007, street signs have started to indicate the street names in both Malay and English, as well as the town and postcode. There is as yet no official recognition of the traditional Chinese names of streets, which are now increasingly unfamiliar to young Penangites, but it is likely that this will change as a result of political developments in Penang.

In June 2007, while Penang was under the rule of Gerakan, street signs in Chinese were illegally set up by Penang's DAP Socialist Youth division along several roads in George Town under the justification it helps attract tourists from China, only to be removed by the Penang Municipal Council.cite web |url= |title=Gerakan puts up road names in Chinese as reminders to state govt |accessdate=2008-07-25 |author=Tan Sin Chow |date=2008-07-22 |publisher="The Star" Online ]

On July 22, 2008, following DAP's electoral victory in Penang and George Town's entry into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list, Gerakan was reported to have placed Chinese-language on existing street signs at six roads, claiming the signs were now vital with George Town's recognition by UNESCO and serve as a reminder to DAP of its earlier promises to erect such signs if voted into office. DAP Socialist Youth secretary Koay Teng Hai had also proposed to include Tamil and Jawi translations, depending on the cultural background of the area, along with Chinese street names.

Penang's UMNO Youth division, however, objected to Gerakan's move and called for the Chinese street signs to be removed, urging the local government and government agencies to solely allow road signs written in Malay.cite web |url= |title=Penang Umno wants road signs in Chinese removed |accessdate=2008-07-25 |author=Bernama |date=2008-07-23 |publisher=NST Online ] The state government has since removed the signs, but announced its intention to put up signs in various languages for the benefit of tourists.

Standard translations

In translating the English words for street, road, lane, etc., the city authorities follow a fairly regular system to avoid confusion between many streets of similar names. There are exceptions to this rule where the historic Malay usage is different and there is no chance of confusion, e.g. Hutton Lane has always been known as Jalan Hutton (see e.g. the "Mesjid Jalan Hatin" (mosque) there) rather than *Lorong Hutton.

*Avenue - "Lebuhraya" (context usually prevents confusion with the normal meaning of "lebuhraya", viz. highway/expressway)
*Circle - "Lilitan"
*Circus - "Bulatan"
*Close - "Solok"
*Court - "Halaman"
*Crescent - "Lengkok"
*Cross - "Lintang"
*Drive - "Persiaran"
*Gardens - "Taman"
*Gate - "Gerbang"
*Green - "Padang"
*Heights - "Cangkat"
*Highway/Expressway - "Lebuhraya"
*Lane - "Lorong"
*Link - "Pintasan"
*Place - "Pesara"
*Quay - "Pengkalan"
*Road - "Jalan"
*Roundabout - "Bulatan"
*Square - "Medan"
*Street - "Lebuh"
*Street Ghaut - "Gat Lebuh"
*Track - "Denai"
*Terrace - "Tingkat"

The word "Ghaut" at the end of some street names reflects the fact that they are extensions of the original streets beyond the original waterfront at Beach St with the reclamation of the Ghauts and the construction of Weld Quay, "ghat" being a Hindi and Bengali word meaning a flight of steps leading down to a body of water.

List of street names

This list is by no means exhaustive.


* "The Penang File" [] [] [] []
* Lo Man Yuk, "Chinese Names of Streets in Penang", Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Singapore: January 1900.


ee also

* List of roads in Kuala Lumpur
* List of roads in Petaling Jaya

External links

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