However, since becoming an independent state in 1993, there was only one way to refer to the Czech Republic in English — by using its formal long-form name, the Czech Republic. In the country itself, there was a concern that this would be confusing and potentially hurt Czech influence on the world stage. “It is not good if a country does not have clearly defined symbols or if it even does not clearly say what its name is,” Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said, according to the Czech News Agency.
So, last April, the Czech Republic added the more informal Czechia (pronounced Check-iya) to its roster of names. But now, 13 months later, does anyone actually use this snappy new name?
Perhaps not. When the country was roiled by a political crisis at the start of May, English-language news reports from major outlets such as the Associated Press and the BBC all referred to country exclusively as the Czech Republic. In fact, the vast majority of English-language news outlets still use the old long-form name, including The Washington Post. Meanwhile, information from search engines suggests that Czechia has a long way to go before catching up with the Czech Republic.
Some news reports suggest that even Czech citizens are confused by the new name. Last October, the Guardian asked a number of locals in Prague about the name, with largely negative responses. “Nobody calls it Czechia, I don’t know why,” one explained. “People are used to the name Czech Republic by now, and I would say we should stick with it.”
At least some of the trepidation over the name may lie with the Czech government itself. The Czech Embassy in Washington still refers to the country almost exclusively as the Czech Republic in its official releases — a trend continued in the country's embassies in other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Britain and Australia. Other institutions also use the Czechia name infrequently: Czech athletes are generally not using the name at international sporting events, and the name is not widely used in official tourism materials.
In an emailed response, Pavla Velickinova, a spokeswoman for the Czech Embassy in Washington, said the name Czechia was "supposed to be used in rather less formal communication, while the full name has been used at formal and official occasions." Velickinova added that Czechia was used "whenever suitable,” including in presentations to different groups and some business brochures.
However, supporters of the short-form name said they were disappointed that their diplomatic outposts were not more actively promoting the name Czechia.
“The fact that the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., still does not officially use Czechia is embarrassing,” said Petr Pavlínek, a representative of the Czechia Initiative, a group that campaigns for wider adoption of the name. “Czechia will have a hard time catching on if the Czech state and its officials are unwilling to learn to use it in appropriate situations in which other countries use their short names.”
This slow move toward Czechia is just the latest chapter in the already divisive story of the country's name. In the Czech language, the name “Cesko” is used to refer to the Czech Republic. This name (pronounced Chesko) is believed to date to the 18th century, although it came to official use only in the 20th century. Cesko has its detractors — one Czech cartographer told Radio Prague in 2004 that he disliked the name because it was “short and harsh sounding” — but its use is now widespread.
Cesko forms the basis for many of the short-form names for the Czech Republic in foreign languages. The country is referred to as Tschechien in German, for example, or Tchéquie in French, but it never stuck in the English language. Part of the reason is historical. The lands that are now Czech had been referred to as Bohemia in English up to the 20th century, which translates as “Cechy” in Czech. However, the words Bohemia and Cechy technically refer to only one region of the modern country, and not the two others: Moravia and Silesia.
When the country split from Slovakia in 1993, one official body suggested Czechia as an official short-form English name. This word too has its own history — it has Latin roots and can be dated as far back as 1841 in the English language — and yet it also has its detractors, including some who felt that it sounded ugly (some claim it sounds too close to Chechnya). Authorities instead stuck with the Czech Republic, while some companies used made-up words such as “Czechlands” to promote themselves in English.
Given the 23-year lag between the Czech Republic becoming independent and Czechia being adopted as a name, perhaps it's not surprising that the name is taking a while to catch on. Supporters are also keen to point to the successes they've had over the past year, including the fact that the State Department, the CIA and Google Maps all use the name now, and the name has been added to the two official United Nations databases of country names, UNGEGN and UNITERM. It also has high-profile fans — including Czech President Milos Zeman, who used the term during a January interview with The Washington Post.
But even so, Pavlínek says that slow progress is to be expected.
“We need to be realistic,” he said, adding that we “cannot expect that the world and the Czechs will switch to Czechia overnight.” After all, the world eventually got used to Czechoslovakia — “a much more difficult word to pronounce and spell,” he notes.
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