top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
Explore
arrow down

Why do the French say Pékin, not Beijing?

There are several examples in French of place names which have long since been replaced by alternative versions in the English language

For a brief period surrounding the 2008 Olympics in China, many in France did start using Beijing, before switching back Pic: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

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. 

Read more: French regions mull joint bid to host 2030 Winter Olympics

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.

Related articles

Nonplussed by French numbers? C'est comme ça!
9 French expressions to use when there is hot weather
10 common French sayings to improve your language skills

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France