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Taiwan Stories – What is in a name? The etymology of Taiwan’s towns

28 Sep
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When I first arrived in Taipei I had a terrible time with place names, often a complete inability to pronounce certain places in a way that a Mandarin speaker could understand. Many places have very similar names (Shulin 樹林 and Shilin 士林 confused me for a long time) and the complete mess that is the Romanization system makes it a nightmare for many a new arrival. But, of course, after a while I got used to the names and now the likes of Ximending or Zhongxiao Dunhua are as familiar to me as Piccadilly or Greenwich.

A few years after I arrived as I begun to push my Chinese studies beyond being able to order a bacon danbing (a kind of bacon and egg pancake) for breakfast, I began to become quite intrigued by the names given to towns and cities. Most people here have probably pondered why there is a Taipei 台北 (North), Taidong 台東 (East) and a Tainan 台南 (South) but no Taixi 台西 (West).  Well, actually there is a Taixi (in Yunlin County) it is just not as big or famous as it’s brothers.

At the time I was living in Xindian, which means new store in Mandarin and this seemed a really bizarre choice of name for a city. So I asked my Chinese teacher and a few local friends without much luck, so I decided to do some research. At first, I was a little disappointed to find out that the name Xindian was actually because a new store was built where the city is now and the name just stuck. However I kept looking through for other place names and what I found was fascinating, and I ended up spending hours on end reading up about these stories. Whenever I found somewhere new that had an interesting name I would go back and check up to see where the name originated.

Here are a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across…

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