Who Put the Ang Mo in Ang Mo Kio?

Is Ang Mo Kio Named After Rambutans, Caucasians or Tomatoes?


Ang Mo Kio is a town located in Singapore. In the 1970s, the authorities decided to keep the phonetics of the name ‘Ang Mo Kio’, but altered the Chinese characters slightly, so that it would read 宏茂桥 “Bridge of Expansiveness and Prosperity”, instead of ‘red haired bridge’.

Back in 1934, before there were any housing blocks, a map shows part of this area marked as a forest reserve under the colonial government. An early reference in an 1849 report on agriculture, written by John Turnbull Thomson, mentions Amokiah, the name for Ang Mo Kio then.

Here are five theories behind this name:

Red Tomato

Some say that it is based on the Hokkien term for red tomatoes (Caucasian’s brinjal), Ang Mo Kio (红毛茄 aka 番茄). However former villagers in the area report that tomatoes were not planted there.

Bridge of the Caucasian (1)

Ang mo is a Hokkien nickname for Caucasian, and kio means ‘bridge’. The Caucasian may refer to a British Lady called Lady Jennifer Windsor. The Windsor’s had a huge estate in the Upper Thomson Area in the 1920’s. There is a story that she pined for her missing little girl who was playing near a bridge. She kept vigil there every day until her own death. Locals said the little girl’s eerie voice could be heard during that vigil and it only ended when Lady Windsor died.

Bridge of the Caucasian (2)

It could have also been named in reference to Mr John Turnbull Thomson, a British civil engineer and artist who played an instrumental role in the development of the early infrastructure of late 19th century Singapore.

Bridge of Concrete

The former General Manager of Bukit Sembawang Estates, Douglas Hiorns, explains that in the past bridges needed to be built to allow tracks to cross over the large expanse of swamps and tributaries of rivers. Some of these bridges were wooden, however the ones made of concrete, were commonly referred to as ang mo huay “Western Ash” in Hokkien.

Bridge where there are rambutans


The old survey maps labelled the land as “Mukim of Ang Mo Kio” (Mukim meaning “area” or “district” in Malay). The Ang Mo part may have derived from the local rambutan fruit, in hokkien Ang Mo Dan 红毛丹. The rambutan was abundant in the areas of the old kampongs. To give the area a precise location “kio” 桥 (“bridge” or “bridges” in Hokkien) was added.

What do you think?

Maybe it was the consolidation of concrete bridges built by Caucasians in an area of rambutan trees that was screaming out for the name “Ang Mo Kio” :)

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