This is interesting, if odd, news. The Czech Republic wants you to call them “Czechia,” believing that the shorter name is easier to remember and will ultimately sell more Czech — excuse me — Czechia beer. According to the CIA World Factbook, the official name of the country is simply the Czech Republic, in the local language, “Česka republika.” The “name derives from the Czechs, a West Slavic tribe who rose to prominence in the late 9th century A.D.”
The nation’s website claims that “apparently it’s difficult for a country to make its way in the world if it has not got a shortened, easy to pronounce, name; something that fits in big letters on a shirt. And the Czech Republic has been dealing with that handicap ever since the split up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Various unofficial options have been tried, Czech, the Czech lands, for example, but the safest option has often been to revert to the full, official name. After months of deliberations, they think they have a solution. Here’s what they decided.
Now, the Czech Republic appears ready to end confusion and take the plunge with an official choice. Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, who is often confronted with confusion over the name, explained what is at stake.
“We are not talking here about the official political name, Czech Republic, Česká Republika, which is clearly established. But in Europe, every country or almost every country, has a shortened geographical title, for instance the Polish Republic is just Poland, and the same follows for others. In our case, unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple because we have not been able to share with the rest of the world the shortened name we use in Czech, Česko. But for us there exists just one possible option as a correct translation of that and that is something along the lines of Chequia or Czechia.”
Czechia in English, and various similar forms in other languages, is reckoned to be the most faithful translation of Česko. And it will be raised at a meeting on Thursday evening attended by the foreign minister, prime minister, heads of two chambers, and the president. If the idea is approved, then the shortened name will be registered with the United Nations, and should start to become common verbal and visual currency.
Minister Zaorálek says sporting bodies for one appear to be keen for a final agreement on a shortened name.
“Perhaps it will be something of a relief for them because it will be clear what must be written on the kits and there will be a general agreement about that. The problem is that we have not been able to agree on this as fast as we would have liked. I had the idea that it would be great if we could have got this done in time for the Olympic games but this whole process of approval by constitutional officials and the government has taken a certain amount of time and in the meantime they have had to start making the uniforms. So if it not this time it will be the next. And I have seen that sportsmen and women are willing to do this but they need some time to prepare.“
Some are asking whether Czechia might not cause confusion among the geographically challenged. In a far from isolated example, in 2013 the US broadcaster CNN confused the Russian province of Chechnya with the Czech Republic, suggesting that the Boston Marathon bombers came from the Central European country.
It’s worth noting that the local term for the country is “Česko,” so it’s not to far off from that, though it seems like it will take some time to get used to it.
Business Insider asserts in their headline that The Czech Republic is changing its name to Czechia to make it easier to sell beer, adding “Because the name of the country is quite long, companies often brand their merchandise with the word “Czech” to show which country their product comes from. One company that does this is Pilsner Urquell beer, which has “Brewed in Plezen – Czech” written on the bottle. The problem with this is that the word “Czech” is an adjective so can’t really be used as a proper noun.”
So the official line doesn’t mention beer as one of the reasons for the country’s new nickname, but several news outlets have brought it up. For example, the New York Times mentions Pilsner Urquell, and their use of “Czech” on packaging already, rather than the official “Czech Republic.”
Variants that did not make the cut included “Czechlands,” “Bohemia” and, simply, “Czech.” (Pilsner Urquell, the storied beer maker, uses “Brewed in Czech” on its cans.)
But they’re hoping to make the change before the Olympics take place, hoping that the Czech Republic’s team can be referred to instead as the team from Czechia later this year in Brazil.
“It’s not good when a country does not have any clearly defined symbols, or cannot say clearly what its name is,” Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Tuesday, unveiling the proposal. “It would be good to set the record straight once and for all. We owe this to ourselves and to the world.”
On Thursday, Czech officials said they would have the name added to the United Nations database of geographical names, which records country names in the world body’s six official languages.
Fans of the change have set up a website, Go Czechia, to dispel myths about the name, its origins and other facts surrounding it.
There’s also an interesting post from transculture, written by faculty of the School of Humanities within the Faculty of Arts, University of Wolverhampton, entitled From Czech Republic to Czechia, in which they reprint an excerpt from an article by linguist Tom Dickins, who wrote ‘The Czech-speaking lands, their peoples and contact communities: titles, names and ethnonyms’, published in The Slavonic and East European Review, 89 (3), 2011, pp. 401–54. Here’s what Dr. Dickens had to say:
“The degree of acceptance of short forms for the Czech Republic in foreign languages varies significantly. Some languages have largely embraced a new descriptor; for instance, French Tchéquie, German Tschechien and Spanish Chequía. Others have proven more resistant. Neither Czechia in English nor Cechia in Italian (which is perhaps too close to cieca [blind woman]) have become so well established, despite their endorsement in 1993 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and their appearance in official geographical lists.105
There can be few precedents of a small state attempting to impose usage of this type on the speakers of major foreign languages, so it is difficult to predict the likely degree of acceptance of the promoted forms. For what it is worth, a poll conducted in 2006 found that ordinary Czechs overwhelmingly prefer the adjectival form Czech (used as an odd-sounding substantive in English) to Czechia, Czechlands and Czecho.106 Amongst native English speakers, Czecho, the misnomer Czechoslovakia (cf. continued references to ‘Yugoslavia’), the Czech-speaking lands and the Czechland(s), all appear to be more common than Czechia, for which there is only one citation in the Bank of English corpus.107 It is striking that even English-speaking Bohemicists are reluctant to adopt Czechia, and in some cases oppose it on the not altogether rational grounds of euphony.
To some extent, the Czechs recognize the anomaly of the situation, as exemplified in the variety of terms which they use to promote themselves abroad, including Czech/CZ made (which invites the unfortunate pun šmejd [junk]), Made in Czechia, Made in (the) Czech Republic, Made in Czech R./Rep./CR/CZ, Czech (Team) or Czech Republic (on sports kit), Czech beer or Brewed in Bohemia/the Czech Republic/in Plzeň, Czech (on the Prazdroj bottle) and Moravian wine.”