What's in a name? Czech Republic mulls shock rebranding as Czechia

Support is growing for a national name change. But would ‘Czechia’ really do the trick?

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
Friday 11 October 2013 18:18
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Milos Zeman (left) thanked Israel's Shimon Peres for referring to his country as Czechia
Milos Zeman (left) thanked Israel's Shimon Peres for referring to his country as Czechia

Some people have enough trouble remembering that an independence movement saw the country of Czechoslovakia effectively disappear two decades ago when it split into two, and now the Czech Republic’s President has said he supports rechristening the nation yet again, this time to Czechia.

It is a debate that has rumbled since the “velvet divorce” in 1993 peacefully split the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There are nations with longer names: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, for example. But Czechs have long grumbled that their name does not roll off the tongue in English, and that many foreigners think the term “Czech” refers to a citizen of the non-existent nation of Czechoslovakia.

So a movement has been gathering pace to informally change the English name to Czechia, a closer approximation of sound of the country’s name in the Czech language. That movement got a high-profile boost this week, when President Milos Zeman thanked his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, for referring to the country as Czechia in a public speech.

“I am very happy that you used the term Czechia just as I do,” he told Mr Peres during a state visit to Israel. “I use Czechia because it sounds nicer and it’s shorter than the cold Czech Republic.”

That has rekindled the debate in the Czech media, with language and history experts weighing in on the merits of the new name.

Karel Oliva, the head of the Czech Language Institute of the Academy of Sciences, told Radio Praha that the name dates back to the 17th century and therefore would be historically appropriate. But he stressed that the official name should remain the Czech Republic, and how people refer to it informally “is a decision for English-speakers to make”. His colleague at the Institute, Marketa Pravdova, told the Prague Daily Monitor that it would be helpful to have a more punchy name in diplomacy and foreign relations.

One problem raised by detractors is the possible confusion with the nation of Chechnya (officially the Chechen Republic), even though Czechia is pronounced “Check-ee-aaa”. So other suggestions being considered are Czechlands – taking inspiration from The Netherlands – and the rather romantic-sounding Bohemia.

But as Mr Oliva pointed out, their former compatriots to the east have managed just fine despite having a name which occasionally leaves foreigners flummoxed. “People very often confuse Slovakia and Slovenia, and I think we could find many more examples of this,” he said.

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