San Francisco Chinatown signage

Here are some photos I took a couple of years ago in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

As should be clear from the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations I’ve provided for the Chinese characters, the Sinitic names for streets in Chinatown certainly don’t come from Mandarin, which isn’t surprising given how the Chinese diaspora was not predominantly Mandarin speaking until recently. My guess would be Taishanese Cantonese.

Beckett: ???? (Mandarin: Báihuàzhu?n Ji?; Cantonese: baahk- wa/ jyun/ )


I like this unofficial sign even better.
a one-way sign, beneath which is a hand-lettered sign reading BECKETT ST ????

Jackson: ??? (Mandarin: Zèchén Ji?; Cantonese: jak\ sahn\)

The first Chinese character, ?, is a surprising choice since it is quite rare and would not be known by most people. Some far more common characters that perhaps could have been used instead include ? (Cantonese: jak\), ? (Cantonese: jaak-), ? (Cantonese: jaahk-), and ? (Cantonese: jaahk-) — all of which are pronounced in Mandarin.

Jackson ???

Clay: ??? (Mandarin: Q?l? Ji?; Cantonese: keih/ leih/)

streetsign for Clay Street, with ??? in Chinese characters

Commercial: ???? (Mandarin: J?nm?ishèn Ji?; Cantonese: kam\ meih/ sahn-)

I would have expected a semantic translation for this street name. But Kam-meih-sahn appears to be another phonetic approximation.

'Commercial ????' -- a bronze placque embedded in brick paving

Grant: ??? (Mandarin: D?ub?n Ji?; Cantonese: dou\ baan/ gaai\)

This is another interesting one. Note that Doubaan and Grant sound nothing like each other. And this isn’t a semantic translation of Grant either. So why is this street labelled ???? The answer is that the Sinitic name preserves an old name of the street: Dupont.

street sign reading 'Grant ???'

And for lagniappe, here’s a photo taken in the nearby Italian district, where Columbus Street is also identified in Italian as Corso Cristòforo Colombo.

as described above

further reading: