From prominent figures and cultural icons, to flowers and special landmarks, every Singapore street name has a tale to tell. Let us look into some of the more interesting ones and reveal to you their origins and stories. So the next time you take a stroll, you’ll look at our streets from a completely different point of view.
Different people, different names
According to the first urban plan in Singapore drawn up in 1822 by British surveyor, Lieutenant Phillip Jackson, the island’s central area was to be divided into ethnic districts. Sir Stamford Raffles, in his brief to the Town Planning Committee, instructed that street names should clearly reflect these different communities. This explains why streets in Chinatown, Little India, and Geylang Serai, have names that clearly relate to the people living and working there.
Our locals however, didn’t always take to these names. Instead, they came up with their own street names using the landmarks or activities that commonly took place in these areas. Take Chinatown for example, the Chinese called it 牛车水 (niucheshui), and the Malays Kereta Ayer. This literally means “Bullock Cart Water”, in reference to the bullock carts used to transport fresh water to the area during the 1800s.
In the 1880s, the Municipal Council named our streets after prominent officials and important British figures. Over the next five decades, over 40 street names were dedicated to municipal officials. Examples of these are Coleman Street, Pickering Street, Albert Street, Clive Street, Queen Street and many more.
In more recent decades, the government have been introducing more Malay street names to indicate our links to the region, and to honour our local heritage. This was how the “Jalans” and the “Lorongs” came about. In 2009, to pay tribute to the composer of our national anthem, the street leading to the new School of the Arts was named Zubir Said Drive.
Who's naming names?
In 1967, shortly after Singapore gained independence, the Advisory Committee on the Naming of Roads and Streets was formed. After several rounds of renaming over the years, the Street and Building Names Board (SBNB) was established in 2003.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) officially took over the secretariat role of SBNB in 2010, and now holds the responsibility of giving our streets appropriate names to honour the heritage of different areas on the island.
The stories behind names
North Bridge Road
Other names that ring a bell?
What other street names are you curious about? We’re sure they have their own fascinating stories behind them, just like the ones featured here. Happy exploring!