As you take a stroll along the River of Life at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers in Kuala Lumpur, you would be walking on history as this was where the city got its name from.
In the Malay language, Kuala Lumpur means muddy confluence — Kuala is the point where two rivers join together, or an estuary, while Lumpur translates to mud, hence Kuala Lumpur.
However, it is said that the initial name proposed for the city was Pengkalan Lumpur, which means muddy harbour or landing place. There was also a suggestion that the name was based on the Cantonese word, “lam-ba”, meaning flooded jungle or decayed jungle.
While there is no firm contemporary evidence for these other than anecdotes, they have one thing in common — the description of Kuala Lumpur as a muddy place.
Indeed, the name of a place could tell us more about it as the names are sometimes derived from a significant characteristic, event or a person that made it unique.
Here are seven of the oldest areas in Kuala Lumpur and the stories behind their names.
Also known as Little India, Brickfields is located right next to the first and largest transit-oriented development project in Malaysia, KL Sentral.
The name Brickfields speaks of its history as it was a site acquired by Kapitan Yap Ah Loy as a brick manufacturing hub to supply bricks and tiles for the reconstruction of buildings in Kuala Lumpur following a flood and a fire that swept through the town in the 1880s.
Kerinchi lies at the border of Kuala Lumpur with Petaling Jaya in Selangor. It is in a strategic location with well-established amenities and public transportation system. It is also undergoing gentrification with more modern high-rise buildings.
Kerinchi used to be a simple village with its early inhabitants originating from Jambi, Acheh and Minangkabau of Indonesia. A majority of them were from Kerinchi, a district in Jambi, hence the place was widely known as Kampung Kerinchi, which later became the official name of the area.
Sentul has the oldest Tamil Sivan temple in the country which was built in 1937. It is also home to the largest complex of railway workshops and train depot in Malaysia which date back to 1905. Today, Sentul is a vibrant town given its proximity to the Kuala Lumpur city centre.
It is believed that Sentul’s name was derived from the Santol tree, a rare fruit tree that could grow up to 150ft tall and was often found in the area in the past.
Some also say that the name Sentul originated from the Tamil words Senggul Tul meaning rock dust, which was said to cover the place, especially the workshops there, a long time ago.
Located at the south-east of Kuala Lumpur, Cheras is unique as parts of the district have a Selangor address while the larger part of it is under the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.
Although there is an ancient Indian Kingdom called Cheras that roughly corresponds to the current Kerala region in Southern India, Malaysia’s Cheras has nothing to do with the Indian Kingdom.
Some people say the place used to be covered in paddy fields producing rice, hence the place was called Beras — the word for rice in Malay. However, the Chinese who predominated the area those days could have mispronounced Beras and called it Cheras instead.
Ampang and the Kuala Lumpur city centre is connected by Jalan Ampang. The district is literally a stone’s throw from the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Therefore, Ampang’s history is closely related to the history of Kuala Lumpur.
According to the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council website, Ampang was derived from the Malay word “empangan”, which means a dam. A dam was constructed from Bukit Belacan to Ampang town centre (the Ampang Point vicinity today) by Chinese miners in the past.
Formerly a tin-mining and rubber-growing area, Setapak is today one of the most popular addresses to stay in Kuala Lumpur, thanks to its location less than 10km away from the city centre and its good public transport connectivity.
It is believed that this proximity to the city centre earned the place its name. In Malay, tapak means steps and setapak means one step away. Hence the name Setapak probably means the place is just one step away from the city centre.
Another explanation for its name comes from its historical roots. According to the website of Toponymy Heritage Places of Malaysia, in 1884, the British Resident of Selangor Frank Swettenham pleaded for the re-appointment of Batu Tapak as the headman of the indigenous tribe living in that area, and hence the name Setapak could be in honour of the headman.
Located 10km north of Kuala Lumpur, Kepong was mainly occupied by Chinese tin-miners in the early days. The decades-old neighbourhood is vibrant with lots of shops and small and medium enterprises. Thanks to the spillover effect from new developments surrounding it, Kepong is seeing a revival of sorts as a property investment hot spot.
It is commonly known among the locals that there are two possible origins to the name Kepong. The first is that it was named after a tree called Pokok Meranti Kepong — one of the common tree species found in Kepong.
Another possibility is that Kepong got its name from the Malay word “enclose” or “surround” as the town is surrounded by forests and is located between the Bukit Lagong Recreational Forest and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia.
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