John Larrysson Column: Place Names

Hong Kong people often say in instead of near when confusing place names. It may be common, but it is still wrong. For example, there is no area or district of Prince Edward.

Wrong: The Flower Market is in Prince Edward.

Right: The Flower Market is near Prince Edward MTR station.

Many people in Hong Kong commonly say that "The Wishing Tree is in Tai Po." However, it is not in the town of Tai Po, but is near it, in Lam Tsuen. Both the village of Lam Tsuen and the town of Tai Po are in the District of Tai Po. So it is misleading to say "The Wishing Tree is in Tai Po." It would be much better to say "The Wishing Tree is in Tai Po District." or "The Wishing Tree is near Tai Po."

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The younger or less famous places usually gets a definition added to the name. The name Tai Po alone should be used for the town, not the district. The districts were made in the early 1980s. The port of Tai Po dates back to the Ming Dynasty. In the USA, New York State is used and New York is assumed to be the city. The territory of Kansas, later a state, is older than Kansas City. In the UK, when we hear the name London, we assume the city not London County. Durham is a town in County Durham.

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What do you do if there are two different places with the same name and they are not connected? For example, there is more than one city named London, London, England and London, Ontario, Canada.

When there is a possibility of confusion use London, Ontario to make the difference clear. Otherwise the reader will assume the city is in England.

I come from London. (Assumes the city in England)

I come from London, Ontario.

There should not be any confusion if the place is explained in context. In this sentence it is clear which London the writer means.

Toronto, and not London, is the largest city in Ontario.

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What should you do if you are much closer to one or the other? If a reader might assume the closer place then make it clear what you mean.

I grew up in Aberdeen, Hong Kong.

I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The younger or less famous places should add a word explaining what or where it is. Remember that the first purpose of language is to communicate with others. If there is a chance of confusion write which place you mean or explain it in context.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.