From ‘Matilda Portico? HDB gets into the name game’, 19 May 2013, article by Daryl Chin, Sunday Times
A portico is a columned walkway that originated in ancient Greece. Nautilus is a shellfish and the name of Captain Nemo’s submarine in the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. What about ancilla? It does not exist even in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, but is said to have a Latin origin and apparently means girl servant, or sea snails.
…Among the latest Build-To-Order (BTO) projects announced in March this year was one in Punggol called Matilda Portico. Compassvale Ancilla in Sengkang Central and the Nautilus in Punggol are the other names the HDB has come up with in recent years. Others include Waterway Sunbeam, Punggol Spectra, The Periwinkle, Edgedale Green and The Coris.
These tongue-twisters may be a bane to non-English-speaking elderly folk and taxi drivers, but the HDB says it is all part of a long- term branding policy, which it hopes creates a special identity and builds a sense of community among residents. “The objective was to create local identities that residents can relate to and foster neighbourliness,” said a spokesman for HDB.
…The HDB said its guiding principles for names include the location of the estate, special design features and any interesting historical or cultural link. As much as possible, HDB would also choose names that are distinct from nearby developments to avoid confusion.
…The HDB even has a theme going for studio apartment projects, which are meant to provide seniors with affordable housing. All have the word “golden” in the first part of their names to indicate graceful ageing. The second part can come from local plants or spices, like Golden Saffron in Woodlands.
*Video stills from Stomp/Wah Banana.
HDB has been ripping off condo concepts for BTO branding for years, and since most words containing ‘water’ in them have already been taken, why not a name that sounds like a high-end Italian bakery? Matilda Portico is supposedly inspired by the nearby Matilda House, an abandoned and the only bungalow left standing in Punggol which as of 2012 has been converted to a clubhouse for a condo that calls itself A TREASURE TROVE . Imagine asking a taxi uncle to take you to ‘A Treasure Trove’. He’d probably ask you if you have a wooden leg and a parrot on your shoulder.
And what an ‘interesting historical link’ this Matilda House is, especially if you’re the superstitious sort. ‘Matilda’ was the mother of an Irish businessman named Alexander Cashin, who built the house in her honour in 1902. Alexander’s father, Joseph, was a 19th century expat who made his fortune out of OPIUM farms. Also known as Istana Menanti (The Waiting Palace), rumour has it that it’s HAUNTED and that several construction workers were killed mysteriously while trying to demolish it. In fact, so renown is its spookiness that it is one of the stopovers of the Singapore Spooky Tour organised by the Asia Paranormal Investigators, advertised as the ‘most haunted home in the city’. With the recent makeover, the only thing scary about Matilda today are the prices of the condos and ‘atas’ BTO flats surrounding it. With a name like Portico, I’d expect the facade of a Roman bathhouse at the very least.
‘Ancilla’, on the other hand, has as much cultural or historical relevance as naming another BTO after a fabled submarine. A quick Google tells us that it indeed refers to a genus of sea snails, while in Latin it also means maid, or girl-slave. I don’t know about the natural history of sea snails in Punggol or whether they have been eaten to extinction thanks to Pungool Seafood, but maids we have aplenty. If you Google IMAGE ‘Ancilla’, however, you don’t see gastropods or slaves, but THIS:
Goodness, HDB has unwittingly named one of its projects after a nude model. Let’s hope it turns out to be as sexy as it sounds. But remember, residents of Ancilla, it’s not pronounced AHN-SEE-LA, but AHN-KEE-LA (though both will confuse taxi drivers nonetheless). I bet some smart-alecks will attempt to say it like AHN-CHI-LA, as in CHINCHILLA. Those in the medical field will make nerdy jokes about how close it sounds to ‘axilla’, or ARMPIT. Meanwhile I would suggest HDB consult a marine biologist before giving BTOs such fishy names.
So it’s not just old people or taxi uncles who get confused about BTO and condo names, it’s the people who LIVE in these buildings themselves. Even deceptively simple words can have different interpretations, like Fernvale LEA: (LEE or LE-A). Don’t even get me started on D’Nest. You have BTO names which are a mouthful like WATERWAY SUNBEAM (not to be confused with Waterway Sundew), or named after one of the 7 sins (Keat Hong Pride), a Wonder Woman accessory (Corporation Tiara), or a Superman accessory (Compassvale Cape). Not to mention frustrating clones like Tampines GreenTerrace, GreenForest and Greenleaf. All without the spacing in between. Like, you know, atreasuretrove. Kids, don’t try this in school.
There is also the trend of naming studio apartment for seniors with the word ‘Golden’ in them. I’m sure old folks can handle numbers and traditional names like ‘Kim Keat’ and ‘Choa Chu Kang’ easily, but forcing them to say ‘Golden Saffron’, ‘Golden Clover’ or ‘Golden KISMIS‘ is a form of elderly abuse. There’s even a ‘Golden DAISY’ which sounds more like a florist in People’s Park Complex than a home. What if they get lost and need help finding their way home but can’t tell us where they live? What if taxi drivers and paramedics end up at Golden Mile or Golden Village cinema instead? In any case, ‘golden’ is passe. Seniors now belong to the ‘silver’ generation. So how about Silver Crest, Silver Hills, Silvervale or Silver Waves? Wait, scrap the last one, that sounds too much like a tsunami.