Is it Macau or is it Macao?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/06/12 00:30 -04:00, original URI:

People get confused sometimes about the name of this place, but whether you call it:

According to some sites (like the U.S. Library of Congress), its official name used to be Macao when it was a Portuguese territory but after the reversion to China the official name became Macau (China : Special Administrative Region) and in conversations about it in its former territorial status the name Macau is now prefered in most contexts.

But other sources (such as the Macao SAR Government Portal) seem to prefer Macao and Macao Special Administrative Region.

At the risk of disrespecting Congress I am going to side with the actual Macao government site, and not just because they have updated more recently. :-)

Last year, while looking into what we had for East Asian collation support in Windows, I noticed a curious fact. The default system code page is 950, which is the Traditional Chinese code page, yet the collation choices were:

I figured this was a bug but it seemed odd that no one ever reported it, if it were. Hmmm, strange....

So, although I was confused I decided to see if I could find out what was going on. I talked to several native speakers and people now living in the US who were either from Macao or who had vistied there for an extended period, and learned that even though the Traditional forms are still used more often than the Simplified ones, in recent years the Simplified forms have seen more usage.

More importantly, however, people in Macao often do use a pronunication sort and it is Pinyin-esque (English is a productive language, so I can make that word up!). Many people in Macao learn the Bopomofo pronunciations but they do not use them in their daily lives. Thus the PRC Simplified Pinyin may not be perfect but they will be closer to the order that a native speaker would expect than the Bopomfo order, even if not all of the ideographs are on the list.

I was unable to find any data on a Macao-specific Pinyin ordering, but I do know that the PRC government has expressed interest in getting Pinyin pronunciations for many more ideographs, including Traditional forms. Perhaps one of the motivations behind such a move is indeed to help support people in Hong Kong and Macao! Certainly it is the case that a Pinyin-based IME is more useful to most native speakers in Macao than a Bopomofo one would be.

Maybe something Cantonese would be most useful, but that is a story for another day....


This post brought to you by "序" (U+5e8f, a.k.a. as an ideograph meaning sequence or series)

# Ben Bryant on 14 Jun 2005 9:48 AM:

You've probably discussed this before, but doesn't it make you wonder if text sorting is not really something that needs to be sensitive to regional norms everywhere? Or may be what I am asking is whether you've discussed the linguistic effect that Microsoft has -- having that one word where people can't find it can lead to far reaching consequences. Then again, important software should not rely on an OS sort. As computers spread to the remote corners of every country, they naturally impose their own effect on the way business is done there. Finding places where people are familiar with multiple languages and competing ways of organizing text, the default settings on the most common computers and software will become known as the "computer" way of doing things. Then there are aspects of sorting like whether or not to use the word "The" on the beginning of the book title which generally requires an awareness of the issue at the time of data entry. I expect similar issues in other languages, and then the interplay when you are sorting multiple languages. It is a wonderful line of work you do, but this Macao article certainly gives a flavor of a very esoteric aspect. Just some random thoughts...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 14 Jun 2005 11:23 AM:

It acually does need to be somewhat sensitive to the norms that the user expects -- any time it does not maytch exactly for CJK it may just be some other pronunciation?

This article may be esoteric, I had not thought of it that way.... it was just an issue that interested me, thats all. :-)

# ncampos on 15 Jun 2005 8:15 AM:

"According to some sites (like the U.S. Library of Congress), its official name used to be Macao when it was a Portuguese territory but after the reversion to China the official name became Macau (China : Special Administrative Region) and in conversations about it in its former territorial status the name Macau is now prefered in most contexts."

In Portugal, its official name was (before the reversion) and still is Macau...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 15 Jun 2005 10:22 AM:

Hey ncampos!

I would expect that -- the names of languages when translated into other languages do not always match what they are to people who speak the original language. for example, the word for Nederlands may be Holandski, Holland dili, Belanda, holandština, Olandè, Hollandsk, Olandese, Holandès, holland, holländska, Nederlansk, Holandês, holenderski, Olandeză, Golland, gоllandča, golandaca, or Holandés.

But it is still Dutch to me. :-)

Alex on 22 Nov 2007 11:36 PM:

I have been asking the same question, and didn't notice you blogged about it.

Go visit the

It is now using both spelling on the same page!

Please take a look at

(if you can read Chinese), it says the reply is official from the Macao government.

Michael S. Kaplan on 23 Nov 2007 1:13 AM:

Well, someone posting on Yahoo answers quoting what they claim is the official answer may or may not constitute proof for others, and whether any country or region has the right to decide the only way that OTHER languages would spell a word is questionable notion for any language....

Alex on 27 Nov 2007 11:41 PM:

Yes, the author only says his friend claimed to have got an official answer. OTOH, you can see on Macao's official web site that both spelling exists.

Just as much right as when PRC started to spell Peking as Beijing.

Michael S. Kaplan on 28 Nov 2007 12:28 AM:

Leaves me with flashbacks to farsi/persian and uighur/uyghur issues. :-)

Alex on 26 Mar 2008 12:46 AM:

I don't know if you read Chinese, but this article mentions an incident of Peking/Beijing, and I like the reply by the governor:

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Mar 2008 2:39 AM:

Wow, a fascinating reversal of the way that these things have gone in China recently!

referenced by

2010/11/18 Oriya vs. Odia?

2010/10/10 Korea vs. Corea

2008/11/12 "We" don't tell you how to spell *our* language in *yours*, so...

2008/03/17 If we sorted Bopomofo like we do Pinyin, would it still be considered "Traditional" Chinese?

2008/03/12 Chaudhuri vs. Chaudhary?

2008/02/02 Bangalore or Bengaluru (Bengalūru)?

2007/12/03 Every character has a story #31: U+272f0 from CJK Extension B, an ideograph that proves that every rose has its thorn! (aka It wasn't my fault, but [from the Windows standpoint] it was because of me....)

2007/11/22 How bad does it need to be in order to be not good enough, anyway?

2007/09/24 A&P of Sort Keys, part 11 (aka It's not like ideographic sorts were developed idiopathically)

2006/03/01 About that Portuguese localization question...

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