Macau in Cantonese pronunciation (translated as 'The Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China')
Macau in Portuguese (translated as 'The Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China')

The Macau Special Administrative Region (Chinese: 澳門特別行政區; pinyin: Àomén Tèbié Xíngzhèngqū; Portuguese: Região Administrativa Especial de Macau; [abbreviated as: RAEM]), commonly known as Macau or Macao (simplified Chinese: 澳门; traditional Chinese: 澳門; pinyin: Àomén, or informally as 馬交 Mǎjiāo) is one of the two special administrative regions (SARs) of the China (PRC), along with Hong Kong.


Main article: History of Macau

The name Macau (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 fishing boat sailing across the sea one day found itself in an unexpected storm. Everyone on board was about to give up all hope of surviving this natural disaster when 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 fishing 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 immediately ascended into heaven. A temple was built on the specific location where she set foot.

Several hundred years later (circa 1513), when Portuguese sailors landed and asked the name of the place, the locals replied "媽閣" (Jyutping: "Maa1 Gok3"). The Portuguese then named the peninsula "Macao"[3] and several hundred years after that (circa 1911) they changed the spelling to "Macau" as part of the Reforms of Portuguese orthography.

Today the two spellings remain in common use due to the transcription of place names in two different Chinese dialects. For Cantonese, the dialect spoken in Macau and Hong Kong, the transcription is "Macau" the same as with Lantau Island. For Mandarin, the dialect that forms the basis of Standard Chinese, the transcription is "Macao" the same as with Qingdao.


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 Macau's previous name Heong San Ou, as it is geographically situated at "Cross' Door".

Macau 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, which continues to be used by the governments of some European countries that never made the change to "Macau". In the modern era, both the spellings "Macau" and "Macao" are accepted as correct spelling.

Duality in English

Since the transfer of sovereignty over Macau in 1999, the government of Macau considers both "Macau" and "Macao" to be acceptable spellings of the name in English language publications, but the former was more widely used across English-speaking world, especially in the United States and Australia. While the latter was more widely used in the United Kingdom, especially in government documents.[citation needed] Meanwhile, the spelling was mixed in Canada.

Dualism is visible in many English language 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] and also at the official website of the Macao Government Tourism Office.[5] 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] As of 2014 most English-language books use "Macau".[7]

Colin Day, an editor of the published memoirs The Lone Flag wrote circa 2014 that "in recent years, there has been a shift back to Macao, which works better phonetically in English."[7]

Official and diplomatic status

Main article: Macau Basic Law

There are two official versions of the Basic Law of Macau, one in Chinese and one in Portuguese, according to articles 136 and 137 of the Basic Law the place may represent itself as “中國澳門” or "Macau, China".

In comparison, the central government of China consistently spells its name using the Mandarin transcription "Macao". Less commonly used is the pinyin transcription of 澳門 Aòmén, 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 馬交 Mǎjiāo which explains the preference for this spelling among Mandarin speakers.

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

"Macao" is also the designated name of the ISO 3166-1 country code MO, and of the top-level domain .mo.

Historical names

In 1587, king Philip I of Portugal (II of Spain) promoted Macau from "Settlement or Port of the Name of God" to "City of the Name of God" (Cidade do Nome de Deus de Macau).[8]

Alternative names for Macau

Alternate Names or Name Variants for
Macau Special Administrative Region
(certain examples) [9]
Language Short Name Formal Name
Arabic ماكاو (Makaw) المنطقة الإدارية الخاصة لماكاو (Almintaqat Al'iidariat Alkhasat Limakaw)
Catalan Macau Regió Administrativa Especial de Macau
Chinese 澳門(Aòmén) or 澳門特區 (Aòmén tèqū) 澳門特別行政區 (Aòmén tèbié xíngzhèngqū)
Czech Macao Zvláštní administrativní oblast Macao
Danish Macau Særlige Administrativ Region Macao
Dutch Macau Speciale Bestuurlijke Regio Macau
English (AU Govt) Macau Macau Special Administrative Region
English (CA Govt) Macao or Macau Macao Special Administrative Region [10]
English (PRC Govt) Macao Macao Special Administrative Region
English (SG Govt) Macau Macau Special Administrative Region[11]
English (UK Govt) Macao Macao Special Administrative Region
English (US Govt) Macau Macau Special Administrative Region
French Macao Région Administrative Spéciale de Macao
German Macao Sonderverwaltungsregion Macao
Hebrew מקאו (Makaw) אזור מנהלי מיוחד של מקאו
Hiligaynon 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 Amministrativa Speciale di Macao
Japanese マカオ (Makao) / 澳門 (Makao; rare) マカオ特別行政区 (Makao Tokubetsu Gyōsei-ku)
Kapampangan Makau / Macau Rehiyung Administratibung Espesyal ning Makau
Korean 마카오 (Makao) / 아오먼 (Aomeon) / 오문 (Omun) 마카오 특별 행정구 (Makao Teukbyeol Haengjeonggu)
Malay Makau Wilayah Pentadbiran Khas Makau
Persian ماکائو (Macao) بخش ویژه اداری ماکائو (Bakhshe Vizheye Edariye Macao)
Polish Makau Specjalny Region Administracyjny Makau
Portuguese Macau Região Administrativa Especial de Macau
Russian Мака́о (Makao) / Аомы́нь (Aomyn') 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). Archived from the original on 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
  4. ^ "Macao SAR Government Portal". Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  5. ^ "Macao Government Tourist Office". Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 23, 2006. Retrieved August 28, 2006.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ a b Day, Colin. "Preface and Introduction". The Lone Flag: Memoir of the British Consul in Macao during World War II (PDF). pp. ix-xviii (PDF p. 6-15/67). - Cited: pages xvii-xviii (PDF p. 14-15/67)
  8. ^ C. R. Boxer, Fidalgos in the Far East, 1550–1770. Martinus Nijhoff (The Hague), 1948. p. 4
  9. ^ "Alternate Names for Macau Special Administrative Region". Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  10. ^ "Canada-Macao Relations". Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  11. ^ "Visa Information". Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore). Retrieved 2019-05-21.

Further reading