One of the last remnants of the embattled, illegal nation of Rhodesia fell by the wayside today when the all-white Rhodesian Front Party changed its name.

A closed-door party congress voted to rename the party led by former prime minister Ian Smith, the Republican Front, thus keeping the same initials, which are commonly used to refer to political parties in the country.

It was apparent there was considerable resistance to the move even though the change came 14 months after the nation achieved independence and black-majority rule under the name Zimbabwe.

The 300 delegates debated almost five hours before voting. About 10 names were put forward, but Republican Front won by a two-thirds majority, Smith told reporters.

Smith, who declared white-ruled Rhodesia unilaterally independent in 1965 in defiance of world opinion, laid the Rhodesian Front name to rest with a touch of poignancy.

"It was a glorious name," he said. "It must now be put away into the glorious pages of history because the country is no longer Rhodesia, and we must move with the times."

To retain the name Rhodesia, he said, would mean that "we were living the past."

The change has political significance since the party is facing a serious challenge from another white party for the first time in years. Andre Holland, a former member of parliament from Smith's party, has formed the Democratic Party, which is challenging the Republican Front in two by-elections in the next month.

There is speculation that Holland's party may win one or both of the seats because the Republican Front is under attack from the ruling party of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe as being an obstructionist force in the new Zimbabwe.

In addition, many of the whites, now numbering fewer than 200,000 are apathetic since they no longer can play a significant political role.

Twenty seats are reserved for whites in the 100-member lower house of Parliament under the constitution negotiated two years ago by Britain as the colonial power.

Smith's party controls all 20 seats for which only whites can vote, but the Republican Front can use the seats only to delay legislation or block moves to make major changes in the constitution dealing with protection of white rights.

The constitution prohibits any change in white representation for seven years unless all legislators approve -- an impossibility as long as the Republican Front holds the seats.

Many whites have come to realize their protected seats only make them vulnerable to criticism.

As if to show that only the party name has changed and that there is still fight left in him, Smith said the party's "principles and basic policies are sound and correct" and no changes were planned.