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: 白話轉街 (Mandarin: Báihuàzhuǎn Jiē; 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 白話轉街

Jackson: 昃臣街 (Mandarin: Zèchén Jiē; Cantonese: jak\ sahn\)

The first Chinese character, 昃, 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 則 (Cantonese: jak\), 責 (Cantonese: jaak-), 澤 (Cantonese: jaahk-), and 擇 (Cantonese: jaahk-) — all of which are pronounced in Mandarin.

Jackson 昃臣街

Clay: 企李街 (Mandarin: Qǐlǐ Jiē; Cantonese: keih/ leih/)

streetsign for Clay Street, with 企李街 in Chinese characters

Commercial: 襟美慎街 (Mandarin: Jīnměishèn Jiē; 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 襟美慎街' -- a bronze placque embedded in brick paving

Grant: 都板街 (Mandarin: Dōubǎn Jiē; 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 都板街? The answer is that the Sinitic name preserves an old name of the street: Dupont.

street sign reading 'Grant 都板街'

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: