Although the name of the school in Chinese translates to Beijing University, its official English name is nevertheless Peking University. At the time that China made the transition to Pinyin romanization, it was felt that some traditional spellings were important to keep. This was one of them.

At its founding in 1898 it was named Jing1-shi4 Da4xue2 Tang2 (Metropolitan School of Higher Learning). It occupies the campus of the former Yanjing University, an American missionary college.