Why Beijing but not München?

I guess it was in the 80’s when Peking suddenly was transformed to Beijing. Bombay might have been less succesful in changing to Mumbay and for all I know, it’s only the Greeks that call their country Hellas.
Why was it so important to change Peking, when Roma is still Rome, München is still Munich, Köln is still Cologne and Nippon is still Japan?

And it’s kinda funny that it’s still “Peking Duck” on the menu, and not Beijing Duck…

My understanding ( and China Guy or some other more knowledgeable person can correct me if I’m off ) is that it just reflects a change from Wade-Giles transliteration to Pinyin, which has been ongoing for some years.

In other words everybody, including China, upgraded to a ( arguably ) superior system of Romanizing Chinese.

  • Tamerlane

And IIRC, Bombay used to be called Bombay in India too, not just in England/the USA/wherever. The change to Mumbai happened at the same time for everyone; it wasn’t a case of “they call it Mumbai but we still say Bombay”.

My local curry house does not yet feature “Chicken Chennai” on its menu, though.

Actually, the Chinese government made the name change in 1958 - it’s just taken time for the change to trickle down. What many people still don’t understand is that “-jing” is not pronounced in the French style (with a soft “j” - “Beigeing”), but with a hard “j” (as in “jingle”).

Nice story about Munich. A bloke was telling his mate that locals didn’t pronounce it with a “k” as the end, but with the “ch” sound as in the Scottish “loch”.

Nice example of a name being disputed for political reasons is happening right now on the BBC World Service. All the staff there use “Burma”, while many of their interlocutors in interviews use “Myanmar”. Sometimes you get distracted from the content of their interaction by the jousting going on over the name, as each side religiously reformulates the other side’s “incorrect” usage with their own “correct” one.

I don’t think it’s necessarily ignorance that causes this, but simply the fact that the soft J is easier for anglophones to pronounce.


IMO… It’s a sign of low self-esteem and inferiority complex to insist that foreigners pronounce/write your country’s placenames your way. China, India and Burma all have anti-Western, anti-Colonial, nationalist chips on their shoulders, and getting us to rearrange words in our own language like Peking, Bombay or Rangoon makes them feel good. It’s a way of self-assertion.

Indeed, maybe they should have been flattered. I would argue that there must be something special about a place if foreigners have evolved their own words for it. Europeans don’t object to The Hague, Munich, Rome, Athens etc, nor do people get upset by the French Londres or Nouvelle Orleans.

Also, it’s not consistent. For a while, China tried to get everyone else to call it “Zhongguo”, but they gave that up years ago. Peking University has never changed its English name. This place is still not Xianggang.

For a slight twist on the principle, notice how we’re now supposed to call Ivory Coast Cote d’Ivoire???

Hard Js tend to get softened when in the middle of words (eg ‘showjumping’).

There’s stacks of threads explaining this.

You tractor boys must pronounce things differently from the rest of us.

Nope, I’m serious. It’s one of those quirks of pronunciation that’s so ingrained it’s hard to hear it even when you try - like the two different pronunciations of ‘the’.

It’s more related to the adoption of Mandarin as the official language in China. Most early exposure that the Western world had was to Cantonese-speaking people.

We’ve seen other usages change over the past couple of decades for the same reason - I’ve even seen references in the Western media to Mao Zedong (nee: Mao Tse-tung) and Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek)

I believe the Norwegians also say Hellas. I’ve got no other cite than the fact that one Norwegian I know says it.

My boss was from Germany and I asked her this very question. She figured it was because the Yanks/Brits could not pronounce it correctly and had to Anglo-cize it to make it seem less foreign.
Then you have:

Milan - Milano.

Rome - Roma.

Florence - Virenza

France, Netherlands, Scandanavia all seem to be the same Engrish wise. So maybe it has something to do with the Romantic Languages. Though, German cannot every be accused of being a romance language, however, Rome did have control over Germania eons ago and maybe that has something to do with it.

It’s a mystery best left to historians and language type people.
ASAIK, Mumbai was Mumbai before the British took control of India for, what, a hundred years or so? It reverted from Bombay to Mumbai to reflect India’s pride and indepence and not a jewel in the British Crown. That’s my take on it.

/I’m talking out of my butt, so never mind me.

Correction - Firenze

And it’s hardly as if England was the only country in Europe to create translations of place names - London/Londres/Londra is enough to show it’s a two-way street. Everybody was happy to modify common placenames to fit their own speech patterns. However, they did it as equals. When it’s part of colonial history, the connotations are very different.

The thing is, Mumbai/Bombay was essentially founded by colonial forces, first the Portuguese, then the English.

I think Hemlock is onto something, underlined by the last post by GM.

København: Copenhagen, Copenhaque, Kopenhagen :wink:

Well, I’ve been told so too - by a greek-norwegian tour guide. She also told us that greeks generally preferred this name to Greece, Greque, Griechenland, Grækenland, etc.
I like prefer the name “Hellas” too - if not for anything else, at least it sounds nicer and there’s a sort of historical ring to it, that “Greece” hasn’t. And it isn’t even hard to spell or pronounce.

The change of Bombay’s name to Mumbai was led by the right-wing Shiv Sena party and its leader (at the time) Bal Thackeray, who has openly stated that he admires Hitler. Shiv Sena is a pro-Hindu party that opposes colonial and Muslim influences. Ironically, Thackeray’s name is an Anglicization of his Marathi name, Thakre. It’s true that the name Bombay was associated with colonialism, but I’d suggest that people look a bit further into why the name was changed before using the new name.

I understand that it’s appropriate to change the name used for a city or country in English when it’s the name the local people use, but I’m a bit troubled when it’s done for political reasons. For example, ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’ instead of ‘Zaire’ (or ‘Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ instead of ‘Libya’) are politicized name changes put in place by less-than-democratic leaders.

European cities generally are referred to by their long-established English names, though in some cases this seems to be changing. The German city which in English is called ‘Cologne’ is more and more often referred to as ‘Köln’ in the news. Sometimes, Anglicized names are used because the local name is difficult to pronounce in English; Köln and München both have vowel sounds that don’t exist in English. Asian names are usually pronounced in an Anglicized manner, without taking into account unaspirated initial plosives, for example, or sounds that don’t exist in English.

Not really; “Beijing” would have been something like “Peiching” in Wade-Giles (forgive me if I’m slightly off: I don’t really know Wade-Giles transcription.) “Peking” was a leftover from colonial days and to my knowledge it came, as stated above, from the Cantonese pronunciation. (Same goes with Nanking/Nanjing.) I’m not sure exactly what motivated us over here to switch our spelling (and pronunciation), but it most likely went along with the shift from WG to Pinyin. The PRC started using Pinyin spellings in all its publications, so Chou En-Lai became Zhou Enlai, and so on.

Relatively smart armchair linguist speaking here: I do not make a /3/ sound when I speak j sounds in the middle of words (what’s “showjumping” anyway?) It’s definitely an affricate, not a fricative, in every example I can think of. I’ve always wondered exactly why we pronounce it /bei '3IN/ instead of /bei 'd3IN/, but neither one is actually correct. The Mandarin sound written “j” in Pinyin is an affricate produced on the palate, not on the alveolum like the English “j”. It has a slightly softer sound, to me. But I wouldn’t sweat pronunciation of it, because like I said, we’re not getting it right anyhow.

Which is interesting, since the English (and French) “Florence” is closer to its original sound. In Italian, consonant clusters with Ls in them changed so that, for instance, Spanish has “blanca” while Italian has “bianca”. Same for “flor”-“fior”, “plaza”-“piazza”, and a million others. So the English word has actually stayed the same while the Italian one has changed. It’s the Italians who don’t know how to talk right, not us. :slight_smile:

No idea what most of this means (but hey, you’re still stuck on showjumping :wink: )…nonetheless I’m glad that even the people who like to correct us may not be correct.