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From Sago Street to Rotan Lane Where do our Singapore street names come from?
Singapore’s road names tell the story of a rich and sometimes violent history.
The ever-curious team at Budget Direct Insurance shares the highs and lows of some of our favorite street names, their meanings and significance.
The street got its name from the many sago factories that were here in the 1840s. Sago was a big part of the diet and could be made into various dishes from pancakes to puddings.
The street was a part of China Town and was also named ‘Street of the Dead’ by the Cantonese. It was known for its Chinese Death Houses. People who were thought to have just days to live, the terminally ill and the chronically sick would be deposited at a death house. Typically, the house had a funeral parlour below. The sick would wait out their final days in these death houses whilst listening to the sounds of funerals taking place beneath them! These death houses were banned in 1961 and the houses demolished.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this street was once been lined with lavender flowers. It was, in fact, named by the residents in an ironic nod to what was considered to be the foulest smelling street around during the 19th century.
Where did the smell come from? There are two theories. Firstly, the area was covered with Chinese veggie gardens and there was a strong, pungent smell of plant fertilizer. Another theory blames the old town gasworks, which emitted an odorous, noxious gas. Yuck!
Named after James W Birch, a wealthy plantation owner and the first British resident of Perak in Malaysia. The road is in Little India, Singapore. Birch was said to be a disagreeable and arrogant man who had many enemies. So much so, that he was speared to death in 1875 whilst taking a bath. His killers, who included the local Malay chief, were later held up as heroes.
Rotan is the colloquial name for rattan canes, still used in Singapore to discipline children as well as criminals. A cane-making factory was located at Chander Road, which lay adjacent to Rotan Lane. You can still find a few shops selling rotan or rattan here today.
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The road is named after Georges Clemenceau, twice president of France, who visited Singapore in 1920. The avenue was meant to honor his courage during World War I. Clemenceau hailed the road as a symbol of friendship between England and France.
Kampong Kayu Road
Kayu means wood or dead plank in Malay and refers to the shipbuilders that were once located here. The area was once buzzing with shipbuilding and maritime trade before being moved to the nearby Keppel shipyard. Today, the word kayu is often used at football matches to refer to the referee as a ‘dead plank.’
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