Wikipedia suggests that "Macau" is from Chinese:

Mage (妈阁 "Pavilion of [the goddess] Mazu").

Etymonline seems to suggest it is from the Chinese:

Ma'ao (妈澳 "Bay of [the goddess] Mazu").

Another possibility would be:

Magang (妈港 "Harbor of [the goddess] Mazu").

with the nasal -ng being rendered as a nasal vowel -ao.

Any Portuguese sources on which is correct? Would "-ao" be likely added a Portuguese suffix to a Chinese root?

2 Answers 2


Sounds just as a Portuguese assimilation of a foreign word, ie "Ma'ao".

The Portuguese suffix "ao" requires the special character "ã": "ão" (a superlative). I would bet the origin of the name Macau isn't related to a superlative at all.

Besides Mage, Mazu, Ma'ao, also A. Ma and A-ma-kas are names involved in the history of Macau.

  • Oi Ana! Bem vinda! Lembro que as respostas preferencialmente devem ser fundamentadas, preferencialmente com referências e etc.
    – Peixoto
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 13:55
  • Ok, serei cuidadosa. Obrigada!
    – A2018
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 16:39
  • Does the au in Macau have a nasal pronunciation in Portuguese?
    – Colin
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 5:34
  • @ColinZwanziger I'm not a grammar expert, but in Portuguese, the pronunciation of au in "Macau" is very similar to ow in English's "cow" and "power" (not sure if it's exactly the same, though).
    – user1798
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 18:17

"The Evolution of Spellings of Macau" by Wu and Jin has an extensive discussion justifying the claim:

'Amacão' corresponds to `Ya/A Ma Gang' ('亞/阿 媽/馬 港') in Chinese, which serves as the origin of all kinds of geographical names in Portuguese that end with the nasal coda. (pg. 4)

So 'Macau' corresponds to Chinese Magang (妈港, "Mazu Harbor").

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