On the name of people from Hong Kong

On the name of people from Hong Kong

It appears that Oxford has put both Hongkonger and Hong Kongese into their dictionary as early as in 2015. It was quite the victory for the people of Hong Kong. But it was not without sparkles of discussions.

Before these words got into the dictionary

Before 2015, the French people have already taken to call us as Hongkongais (Hongkongaise for female). The German would call us something among the lines of Hongkongisch or something. The Holy See, however, referred, and still does, to us as Sciiamchiamensis.


However, the English community, surprisingly, did not encourage to use a word to specifically refer to us. The English Wikipedia called us, and still does, Hong Kong People, and perhaps the British also did call us that. Some more cultured individuals would prefer calling us “People FROM Hong Kong”, but not “OF Hong Kong”.

The current naming scheme – Hong Kongese

This actually has quite a long story behind. We must go back to look at Latin, as the base of most European languages, names different people.


The Latin for Hong Kong is either Sciiamchiamensis, or Hongcongum, depending on how old your source is. Sciiamchiamensis, bearing the Ecclesiastical Latin in mind, is pronounced as “Shiyam Kiam Men Sis”, which would suggest a transcription of “Shiang Giang”, which they took to use “M”, as the substitute of an “ng”-ending.


This “-ensis” in Latin, means “people from there”, as in Hispanensis (people from Spain) or in Carthaginensis (people from Carthage). The “-ensis” essentially evolved into French “-ais”, Italian “-ese” and English “-ese”.


Yes. Everything agrees with each other.

What about Hongkonger?

The German would call somebody from Berlin a Berliner and somebody from Wien (Vienna) a Wiener. This also applied to the Germanic naming schemes in older English, which a person from York (an old town with a Germanic name) a Yorker. If we are to call someone a Hongkonger, it becomes such a confusion as to, if that person were a Germanic person, and that Hong Kong were a Germanic town.


Also, this word is an adjective. The famous “Wiener”, actually means a “Wiener Würstchen”, the sausage in the Wiener style, where Wiener being the adjective pertaining to Vienna.


This is troublesome. It appears that we never even call our own noodles as Hongkonger noodles. Somehow, they are called Hong Kong noodles. Another anomaly.

What about Hongkongian?

The “-ian” stem is usually used if the country is a respected country, or a finite land with a definite culture, as seen by the Romans. Which is why the Romans called themselves the Roman but not Romese, Italian but not Italiese. The use of “Hongkongian” can promote that standing as a community of culture.


Aside, the older generations may find it at ease to call ourselves Hongkongian, as it is strikingly similar to saying the Cantonese name “Hoeng Gong Jan”.


It also resolves the problems caused by Hongkonger, as Hongkongian can be used both as a noun and an adjective. We may say the Hongkongian noodles, Hongkongian styles et cetera.


What is the meaning of this? Well, let’s just say that the Oxford Dictionary was not a rulebook of “What we must use to call ourselves”. A dictionary is a book to describe what has already happened in the world. Meaning before 2015, there were already people calling us Hong Kongese and Hongkongers up to such a time Oxford had to recognise it as a common way to call us.


But should we be dictated to what to call ourselves? I think we should call ourselves according to what we define ourselves. If we start calling ourselves a new specific term, say, Hongkongians, in a few years time, we may find our new invented word be recorded in dictionaries. Now that, that is what I call an achievement.