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Update: This article has been updated to reflect the correct common name for the Slovak Republic. Guardian Liberty Voice apologizes for the error.
The Czech Republic has apparently been having an identity crisis. After Czechoslovakia split into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic in 1993, the latter has not had a popularly used identifier (the Slovak Republic is commonly called Slovakia) on tourist merchandise, stamps, and team uniforms at the Olympics, World Cup or other sporting events. However, that is changing as the country has adopted and asked the world to accept their new casual name: Czechia.
Most countries have formal names and more commonly used shorter names. For example, Germany, the United Kingdom and China are short forms of referring to the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the People’s Republic of China.
True, some have one name period, formally or informally – Canada is always Canada and Jamaica is always Jamaica. But, short cuts for longer names are common. Even the U.S. is technically the United States of America, but few say the whole mouthful outside of a classroom, reciting the pledge of allegiance or for some other political or legal purpose.
Nearly all the European countries, except the Czech Republic (and the UK) have a one-word version of their name in foreign languages. It seems like a little deal, but there has apparently been a long-standing debate over what the country should be called, particularly in English. People get the country’s name wrong, still refer to Czechoslovakia or think Czech Republic sounds unfriendly or stuffy.
Some exports from the country and even their hockey team use just “Czech.” However, Czech is apparently an adjective and cannot be formally used as the country’s name. Internally, natives call their own country “Česko,” but that name has political connotations dating to the split with Slovakia.
The name Czechia has issues too. An official government agency actually first codified it when the country was formed more than 20 years ago and it never caught on. But, the government is determined this time to officially rebrand their country. Other criticisms are that Czechia sounds ugly (but it certainly is easier to say than Czech Republic) and that it sounds like Chechnya, which is the common nickname for the Chechen Republic part of Russia.
While the new name has been endorsed by the country’s President Milos Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and parliamentary leaders, there are a couple of smaller hurdles left. It needs to be approved the Chechia cabinet and be sanctioned by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) and to the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN). Presumably, there will need to be some approval by the International Olympic Committee before the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro begin if the uniforms will reflect the new name.
Even if Czechia is formally adopted and recognized worldwide as the country’s new casual name, it is only the English version of the name. There are translations just like the U.S. is the États-Unis in French or the Estados Unidos in Spanish and Portuguese (or the formal names of États-Unis d’Amérique and Estados Unidos de América). In French, Czechia will be Tchequie and, in Spanish and Portuguese, Chequia.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Los Angeles Times: Czech Republic goes casual with new one-word name: Czechia
U.S. Department of State: Independent States in the World
Smithsonian: The Czech Republic Wants to Change Its Name
UN Statistics: United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)
Photo by Blanicky – Creative Commons license