Reader question: Why does France still call Beijing ‘Peking’ and Mumbai ‘Bombay’?
They changed their names decades ago. Beijing is the official version of the city’s name in the western alphabet recognised by the Chinese government and the UN, though Peking is not necessarily objected to – Peking University still uses this.
France has retained Pékin, developed by 17th century Jesuit missionaries. It is not clear if this is due to conservatism, ease of pronunciation, or other reasons. Germany still uses Peking, and Italy Pechino.
French speakers also tend to favour Bombay, a name many Indians link to colonialism, rather than the official Mumbai. Linguists note that history and politics influence placename spellings, and Bombay is the colonial name of a former British colony.
So, refusing to adopt its new self-chosen name could harm UK-India relations, whereas France is not as sensitive to that issue. The Portuguese also use Bombaim.
Generally, French does generally appear to be more conservative than English in this regard.
While UK and US media have begun calling the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the French press has mostly stuck to the Russian version Kiev, with the exception of the left-leaning newspaper Libération.