Names of (some) Singapore Islands

A compilation initiated by Jeffrey Low
and responded to by members of
Nature Singapore and
Singapore Heritage mailing lists

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Names of some Singapore Islands, compilation, 05 Sep 2005

From: Jeffrey Low <cat64fish@yahoo.com>
Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2005 10:47:06 +0100 (BST)
To: "singaporeheritage@yahoogroups.com"
Subject: [nature-singapore] Names of our islands

Hi everyone,

Some time ago I asked if people knew the meanings behind the names of some of the islands of Singapore. I may request your help again when I dig up more names, but for now, my thanks to all who responded. The English translations with questions marks are my guesses :)

Cheers, Jeff

Those who responded (that I know of): Hedwig Anuar, Anwar Hadi, Chim Chee Kong, Chua Ai Ling, Ivy Lee, Ngiam Shih Tung, Timothy Pwee, Ilsa Sharp, Bonny Tan

Names of islands

1. Pulau Blakang Mati (Sentosa)
Literal translation: "blakang" means behind and "mati" means dead, thus "Island where Death lurks from Behind", also "Island Beyond Death". Sentosa means "tranquility", a modern name chosen by public poll.

2. Pulau Sakijang Bandera (St John's Island)
Literal translation: "sa" means one, "kijang" means barking deer and "bandera" is a flag, so presumably "Island of One Barking Deer and Flags"? "St John's Island" could have been derived from when it was used as a quarantine for (infectious diseases?).

3. Pulau Sakijang Pelepah (Lazarus Island)
Literal translation: "sa" means one, "kijang" means barking deer, "pelepah" is a palm frond, so presumably "Island of One Barking Deer and Palms"? Why it was renamed to Lazarus Island is not known (perhpas something to do with Lazarus who was raised from the dead in the bible?).

4. Pulau Tembakul (Peak Island, Kusu Island)
Literal translation: "tembakul" means mudfish. Why it is called Peak Island is not known. Kusu means "tortoise", thus "Tortoise Island".

5. Pulau Seringat
Literal translation: meaning of "seringat" is not known; however "ingat" means to remember.

6. Pulau Tekukor (also known as Pulau Penyabong)
Literal translation: "tekukor" means turtle dove or spotted neck dove, so presumably "Turtle Dove Island" or "Island of Turtle Doves"? Meaning of "penyabong" is not known.

7. Pulau Subar Darat and Laut (The Sisters)
Literal translation: "subar" means fruitful, not sure how that relates to the pirates and sisters in the legend?

8. Pulau Brani
Literal translation: "brani" means brave, thus "Island of the Brave".

9. Pulau Bukom
Literal translation: "bukom" means tail-less.

10. Pulau Ular
Literal translation: "ular" means snake, presumably "Snake Island"?

11. Pulua Hantu
Literal translation: "hantu" means ghost, presumably "Ghost Island" or "Island of Ghosts"?

12. Pulau Semakau
Literal translation: meaning of "semakau" is not known, but "semak" means scrub or undergrowth.

13. Pulau Sebarok
Literal translation: meaning of "sebarok" is not known, but "baroh" means lowlands.

14. Pulau Sakeng
Literal translation: "sakeng" means heavy, greatest.

15. Pulau Jong
Literal translation: "jong" (arabic origin) meaning junk, now means a light sailing canoe with outrigger boom.

16. Terumbu Pandan (Cyrene Reefs)
Literal translation: "pandan" means screw pine; "cyrene" means a wall; coldness; the floor; also a city (now Tripoli) in Upper Libya, North Africa, founded by a colony of Greeks (B.C. 630). Presumably "cyrene" was seen as a "wall" to ships navigating the channel?

17. Pulau Busing
Literal translation: meaning of "busing" is not known, perhaps a corruption of the malay word "pusing" which means to turn, or "besing" meaning noisy?

18. Terumbu Pempang Darat, Tengah and Laut
Literal translation: "terumbu" describes a reef that is visible at low tide; the meaning of "pempang" is not known, perhaps it is a corruption of the malay word "bemban" meaning fish traps; the 3 reefs were further distinguished from each depending on their relative position to land (ie "darat" near shore, "tengah" the middle reef, and "laut" the reef nearest the open sea).

19. Pulau Salu
Literal translation: meaning of "salu" is not known, but could be a corruption of the malay word "salur" or "salor", meaning watercourse or channel.

20. Pulau Sudong
Literal translation: meaning of "sudong" is not known.

21. Pulau Pawai
Literal translation: "pawai" means cortege, procession or parade or suite of the raja, presumably the retinue of the raja stayed there for some reason?

22. Pulau Senang
Literal translation: "senang" means easy or confortable, so it was presumably an island of comfort, given that the "procession of the raja" was next to it? The island also used to be a prison for hard core prisoners, and "senang" could be an ironic term for the island.

23. Pulau Biola
Literal translation: "biola" means violin, presumably "Violin Island", becasue of its shape?

24. Pulau Satumu (Raffles Lighthouse)
Literal translation: "satumu" means one tree, thus "One Tree Island". Alternative theory is that it is the misspelling of the malay word "temu", meaning favourable or suitable.

25. Pemalang
Literal translation: meaning of "pemalang" is not known, perhaps a corruption of the malay word "permatang" meaning sand hill? Alternative: "malang" is Javanese for hidden reef.

26. Terumbu Raya
Literal translation: "terumbu" means reef, "raya" means great or large, presumably "The Great Reef", due to its size?

27. Terumbu Bemban
Literal translation: "bemban" means to roast, is a kind of fish trap, shrub whose stems used to make baskets - perhaps this was a place for fishing or used to have the plants in abundance?

28. Terumbu Bayan
Literal translation: "bayan" means clear, presumably "Clear Water Reef" or "Reef in Clear Water"?

References
Thanks to Chim Chee Kong, Ivy Lee and Hedwig Anuar.

  • Toponymics : a study of Singapore street names
    Authors: Victor R Savage & Brenda S A Yeoh
    Publisher: Eastern Universities Press, 2003.
    ISBN: 9812102051
  • Tales from the Islands of Singapore / Ron Chandran-Dudley
    Call number: Y R SING 398.2095957 CHA
  • Stories of the Islands of Singapore and Malaysia / Qiu Min
    Call number: Y R SING 398.209595 QM

Websites
Thanks to Bonny Tan, Ivy Lee and Ria Tan
InfoXpress at http://ix.lib.gov.sg (search for Pulau, link doesn't seem to work though)
http://www.answers.com/topic/list-of-islands-of-singapore
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blakang_Mati
http://library.thinkquest.org/04apr/00793/Islandtext
http://www.wildsingapore.com/places/shoresouth.htm

Originally posted by Jeffrey Low to Nature Singapore mailing list on 05 Sep 2005.

More to come

Suggestions from Chen Sien to Jeffrey Low on the Nature Singapore mailing list.

27 Sep 2005 - "Notes on names of places in the island of Singapore and its vicinity." Journal of Straits Branch Royal Asiatic Society Vol.XX pp.75-82.

06 Sep 2005 - "More Names of Singapore Islands"
Here are some more names of isles and islets for you. Some of them are already on your list but are included here as they have a deviant or antiquated toponym.Pulau Buloh
Pulau Serimbun
Pulau Merambong
Pulau Damar
Pulau Sembilan
Pulau Pisi (Pulau Pesek?)
Pulau Ayer Chawan
Pulau Boain (Pulau Buaya?)
Pulau Ayer Limau (Pulau Merlimau?)
Pulau Sekra
Pulau Ayer Merbau
Pulau Bismut
Pulau Biskol
Pulau Serayah (Pulau Seraya)
Pulau Seburus Dalam
Pulau Seburus Luar
Pulau Propoh ?
Pulau Bukom Ketchil
Pulau Siking (Pulau Sakeng)
Pulau Sebarok (Middle Island)
Pulau Hantu (Pulau Keppel) ˆ New Harbor/Keppel Harbor
Pulau Sekukor
Skijang Berak ?
Renget Kechil ? (Pulau Renget? or Pulau Seringat?)
Renget Besar ? (Pulau Renget? or Pulau Seringat?)
Pulau Tekong
Pulau Tekong Kechil
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ketam
Pulau Seranggong (Pulau Serangoon)
Pulau Saigon
Pulau Seletar
Pulau Pergam
Pulau Sekudo
Pulau Samulun
Pulau Kuching
Pulau Chichir
Pulau Mesemut Laur
Pulau Mesemut Darat
Pulau Bakau
Pulau Meskol
Pulau Berkas
Pulau Sudong
Pulau Renggis
Pulau Selegu
Pulau Tekukor (Pulau Penyabong)
Pulau Semechek
Pulau Sajahat
Pulau Sajahat Kechil
Malang Tiga ?
Pulau Sanyongkong
Pulau Unum