Names of Macau

Macau in Cantonese pronunciation
Macau in Mandarin pronunciation
Macau in Portuguese pronunciation

The Macao Special Administrative Region (simplified Chinese: 澳门特别行政区; traditional Chinese: 澳門特別行政區; pinyin: Àomén Tèbié Xíngzhèngqū;  in Mandarin , in Cantonese ; Portuguese: Região Administrativa Especial de Macau (listen) ; abbreviated RAEM), commonly known as Macao or Macau (simplified Chinese: 澳门; traditional Chinese: 澳門; pinyin: Àomén, or informally as 馬交 maa-gau) is one of the two special administrative regions (SARs) of the China (PRC), along with Hong Kong. With effect from 1st January 2016, "Macao" is the only acceptable spelling in English.


Main article: History of Macao

The name Macao (Portuguese pronunciation: [mɐˈkaw])[1] is thought to be derived from the Templo de A-Má (Temple of A-Ma or Ma Kok Temple) (媽閣廟, Cantonese Jyutping: Maa1 Gok3 Miu6, local pronunciation: Maa5 Gok3 Miu6 or Maa5 Gok3 Miu2), a still-existing landmark built in 1448 dedicated to the goddess Matsu - the goddess of seafarers and fishermen.

In keeping with saga, a fisher-boat sailing across the sea one day found itself in an unexpected rainstorm. Every one on board was about to give up all hope of surviving this natural disaster. An attractive young lady, who had boarded the boat at the eleventh hour, stood up and ordered the tempest to calm down. The gale ceased and the sea became calm.[2] The fisher-boat, without further event, arrived safely at the port of Hoi Keang. The young lady walked ashore to the top of the Barra Hill where, in a glowing aura of light and fragrance; she ascended into heaven immediately. On the specific locale where she set foot on, a temple was built.

Several hundred years later, when Portuguese sailors landed and asked the name of the place, the natives replied "媽閣" (Jyutping: "Maa1 Gok3"). The Portuguese then named the peninsula "Macao".[3]


The Chinese name Aomen 澳門 (pinyin: Àomén, Cantonese: Ou3 Mun4*2 [ʔōu mǔːn]) means "Inlet Gates". The "gates" refer to two erect gate-like mountains of Nantai (Chinese: 南台; pinyin: Nántái) and Beitai (Chinese: 北台; pinyin: Běitái). Alternately, Ao may derive from Macao's previous name Heong San Ou, as it is geographically situated at "Cross' Door".

Macao is also known as:

While Ou3 Mun2 is the traditional Cantonese name of the place, it is common among the Cantonese-speaking population to use the source of the Portuguese name, 馬交 Maa5 Gaau1 [ma̬ː káːu]. The form "Macao" was the original Portuguese spelling, and has been retained in most European languages. In modern Portuguese, the correct spelling is "Macau".

Duality in English

"Macao" is the traditional Portuguese spelling. However, since the transfer of sovereignty over Macao in 1999, the government of Macao considers both "Macao" and "Macau" to be acceptable English spellings of the name, whereas in Portuguese "Macao" has long been abandoned and just "Macau" remains the official spelling.

This English language dualism is visible in many government publications and documents, sometimes even within the same paragraph. For example, the spelling "Macao" appears on the local government's English language emblem as seen at its web portal,[4] but the Macao Government Tourist Office uses the "Macau" spelling, as is also reflected in its website.[5] With effect from 1st January 2016, the Macau Government Tourist Office is now known as Macao Government Tourism Office. Similarly, "Macao" is used on the Macau Special Administrative Region passport, but the government's official explanatory note on the passport spells it as "Macau".[6]

"Macao" is also the origin of Macao's designated Internet country code top-level domain .mo.

Official and diplomatic status

Main article: Macau Basic Law

In comparison, the central government of the China consistently spells its name as "Macao". Less commonly used is the pinyin transcription of Aomen, but its usage is not used officially. The decision not to adopt pinyin names after the handover to China appears to be consistent with the usual PRC policy of respecting the local linguistic traditions in the romanized version of names, as in other non-pinyin names like Lhasa, Ürümqi or Hohhot, for example. Phonetically the spelling "Macao" produces a pinyin pronunciation similar to Macau.

According to the Unofficial English Translation of the Basic Law of Macao,

Article 136: The Macao Special Administrative Region may, on its own, using the name "Macao, China", maintain and develop relations and conclude and implement agreements with foreign states and regions and relevant international organisations in the appropriate fields, including the economic, trade, financial and monetary, shipping, communications, tourism, cultural, science and technology, and sports fields.
Article 137: Representatives of the Government of the Macao Special Administrative Region may, as members of delegations of the People's Republic of China, participate in international organizations or conferences in appropriate fields limited to states and affecting the Region, or may attend in such other capacity as may be permitted by the Central People's Government and the international organisations or conference Concerneds and may express their views, using the name "Macao, China". The Macao Special Administrative Region may, using the name "Macao, China", participate in international organizations and conferences not limited to states.

The Official Portuguese version of the Basic Law of Macao prescribes the use of the name "Macau, China" in Articles 136 and 137.

Notwithstanding the official Basic Law of Macao requirement to use "Macao, China", Macao participates in international organisations and international sport events like World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund meetings and East Asian Games as "Macao, China".

Alternative names for Macau

Alternate Names or Name Variants for
Macau Special Administrative Region
(certain examples) [7]
Language Short Name Formal Name
Arabic ماكاو المنطقة الإدارية الخاصة لماكاو
Catalan Macau Regió Administrativa Especial de Macau
Chinese Aòmén (澳門) or Aòmén tèqū (澳門特區) Aòmén tèbié xíngzhèngqū (澳門特別行政區)
Czech Macao Zvláštní administrativní oblast Macao
Danish Macao
Dutch Macau Speciale Bestuurlijke Regio Macau
English Macao Macao Special Administrative Region
French Macao Région Administrative Spéciale de Macao
German Macao Sonderverwaltungszone Macao
Hebrew מקאו אזור מנהלי מיוחד של מקאו
Hiligáynon Makáw Bináhin nga may Pinasahî nga Pagpamalákad sang Makáw / Rehiyón nga Espesyál nga Adminitratíbo sang Makáw
Indonesian Makau Daerah Administratif Khusus Makao
Italian Macao Regione Amministrazione Speciale di Macao
Japanese マカオ マカオ特別行政区
Kapampangan Makau / Macau Rehiyung Administratibung Espesyal ning Makau
Korean Makao (마카오) / Aomeon (아오먼) Makao Teukbyeol Haengjanggu (마카오 특별 행정구)
Malay Makau Wilayah Pentadbiran Khas Makau
Persian Macao /ماکائو Bakhshe Vizheye Edariye Macao / بخش ویژه اداری ماکائو
Polish Makau Specjalny Region Administracyjny Makau
Portuguese Macau Região Administrativa Especial de Macau
Russian Makao (Мака́о) / Aomyn' (Аомы́нь) Специальный Административный район Мака́о
Spanish Macao Región Administrativa Especial de Macao
Tagalog Makaw / Makao Rehiyong Administratibong Espesyal ng Makaw
Turkish Makao Makao özel yönetim bölgesi
Vietnamese Ma Cao Đặc khu hành chính Ma Cao


  1. "Alternate Names or Name Variants for Macau Special Administrative Region". Retrieved 2007-05-24.
  2. "Home > Mazu Culture > Mom Zusheng Ping >". Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  3. "Hakka and Macau" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2008-01-02.
  4. Archived from the original on August 29, 2006. Retrieved August 28, 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. "Macau Government Tourist Office". Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  6. Archived February 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. "Alternate Names for Macau Special Administrative Region". Retrieved 2013-09-16.
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