In my last post about toponyms, I have conflated two phenomena that can lead to changes in the usage of city and country names. The first type of change is represented by the replacement of ‘Pekin(g)’ with ‘Beijing’. It consists in the switch from one exonym—a toponym that is not used in the place that it designates—to another. ‘Peking’ and ‘Beijing’ are both attempts at rendering the native form 北京 (Běi Jīng) in English or, rather, its Mandarin pronunciation. The city did not actually change its name, but transcription preferences changed (for whatever reason). This type also includes cases in which more than just a few spelling details have changed—as long as the local name has remained the same. The second type of change is represented by the replacement of ‘Constantinople’ with ‘Istanbul’. It involves an actual renaming of the geographical entity in question. ‘Istanbul’ is not a different way of writing or pronouncing the same local toponym in some foreign language. It is a new name, which, just like the old one, will engender a variety of different exonyms. Contrary to the first type, this one requires the endonym—the local name for the place—to be affected as well. Obviously, these changes can take place consecutively with the most common order probably being a type 2 change (endonym change) followed by a type 1 change (different rendering of the new endonym).
Today I want to focus on the first type of changes, the ‘Beijing’ type. The likelihood of the existence of an exonym that is markedly distinct from the endonym seems to be dependent on factors like geographical, cultural and linguistic proximity between the two countries and languages. When we look at German exonyms of European cities, we find two things: first, many of them only differ from the local forms with respect to pronunciation (Paris, London, Stockholm), but the Google Ngrams Viewer can’t tell us anything about that; second, many of the forms that also differ in orthography seem to stick. Hardly anybody in German uses any other forms than ‘Kopenhagen’ (for ‘København’ in Denmark), ‘Straßburg’ (for ‘Strasbourg’ in France, a form English writers have been preferring since 1938), ‘Mailand’ (for ‘Milano’ in Italy) or ‘Danzig’ (for ‘Gdańsk’ in Poland). But there are cases in which German preferences have changed from an exonym that is only vaguely reminiscent of the endonym to a form that is identical to what the locals write (and closer to what they say).