It has already been three years since the Czech Republic adopted “Czechia” as its official and shortened geographical name in the English language. But has it caught on with the general public?
First, let’s look at why the word “Czechia” came into existence. Although the first known usage of Czechia dates back to the mid-19th century, it wasn’t mentioned in any official capacity until after the split of Czechoslovakia, when the Czech surveying and mapping authorities mentioned it as a possible alternative to the “Czech Republic”.
But the term was largely forgotten until a few years ago, when leading politicians, such as Czech President Milos Zeman, suggested the country should rebrand itself and choose Czechia as its official name (he even started using it in English language interviews, like one with the Guardian a few years ago). Proponents of the name-change argued that the “Czech Republic” was too long and that it needed a more marketable name (like Slovakia or Poland, which are never referred to as the Slovak or Polish Republics) to attract foreign investments and international interest.
Czechia was eventually considered as the best translation of the Czech version Česko, and became the official name of the country, registered as such by the United Nations, in 2016.
But there have also been many counter arguments for using Czechia in English. Firstly, many people claim it sounds ugly, unnatural or “too eastern”. Others were worried foreigners might confuse it with the Russian Republic of Chechnya (in a far from isolated incident, CNN suggested in 2013 that the Chechen bombers of the Boston Marathon came from the Czech Republic).
Another reason why the name has failed to catch on is because Czechia derives from the name of the tribe that settled in Bohemia (the country’s western half) in Medieval times, and used as an alternative name for the region (sparking the anger of residents from Moravia, the country’s eastern half, who felt left out under the rebranding).
After asking a few Czechs, it was easy to see what they make of the change. Lukas, a 33-year-old chef, told me that “it will always be the Czech Republic to me. I don’t know why it was changed”. Petra, a 29-year-old office worker echoed Lukas’ sentiments and pointed out: “I don’t know anyone who calls it Czechia in English, and when I meet people from other countries, I still say that I am from the Czech Republic”.
To make sure, I did a little experiment of my own to see if anyone refers to it as Czechia. I showed colleagues, friends and acquaintances a picture of the Czech flag and simply asked “What country does this flag belong to?” All of them replied “the Czech Republic”.
If the Czech government really wants this name to become the go-to term for their country, they’ll probably have to summon their patience, as it could take generations for it to become the mainstream name amongst the general public (if it ever does happen at all).
They should also lead by example, as many Czech officials still use “the Czech Republic” (or its Czech equivalent, Česká republika). But what seemed to be the consensus when chatting to Czech and native English speakers, was that nobody ever had a problem with using the “Czech Republic”. And that they even enjoyed the uniqueness of the name.
So, what’s your preference? Czechia or the Czech Republic?