MTR and its names

Few things stump non-locals more than the imaginative array of MTR station names, be it a random object tied to a geographical feature, a posh designation with sometimes overt colonial colours, or a phonetic transcription that straight-up doesn’t make sense to the average English speaker. Let’s explore three of the most popular MTR stations in Hong Kong and assess how their names came into being.


An extension of Central, Admiralty is an area of glamorous offices and malls, and arguably the most important railway transport hub with three rail lines overlapping the station. It once held the British Admiralty Dock, which was torn down to make way for the HMS Tamar naval base, hence the name. Here’s a trivia night-worthy fun fact: the Chinese and English names came from closely related origins, yet aren’t even close in the literal sense. ‘Kam Chung’ means ‘the golden bell’, referring to the actual golden bell that once donned the military barracks to the east of Garden Road in Admiralty.

Mong Kok

Modest fishing communities were recorded as settling in Mong Kok as early as the Han Dynasty. A story unbeknown even to locals, the once-coastal region acquired its current name in convoluted fashion: ‘Mong’ referred to a specialty herb once harvested in the area, and ‘Kok’ is the cape where the plants grew in abundance. With large-scale reclamations and the population boom that followed during British rule, the herb farms were no more, and the Chinese name of Mong Kok was officially changed in the 1930s to mean ‘vibrant corner’ instead. Meanwhile, the English translation was left untouched, retaining a more nostalgic flavour of the lands it represents.

Diamond Hill

No shiny stones were found on these hills, but a white quartz quarry was indeed in operation for many years before urban development began. In Cantonese, ‘drilling rocks’ happens to share the same pronunciation as ‘diamonds’, so through a happy mistranslation accident, Diamond Hill was born. Today, Diamond Hill is one of the most populous areas in Kowloon and a busy transit hub that accommodates the perpetually busy Tuen Ma and Kwun Tong Lines.