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'Czech Republic' a Bit Difficult? Just Call Us Czechia

Leaders of the Czech Republic are sick of it being one of very few countries in the world that doesn't have a simple one word name in English so they're officially adopting one — Czechia.

by VICE News and Reuters
Apr 15 2016, 11:15am

Foto di Filip Singer/EPA

Tired of having to wheel out two words every time they talk about their country in English, and even more weary of foreigners getting their name wrong, leaders of the Czech Republic have decided to make things easier for everyone and give the nation a new title — Czechia.

Once approved by the Czech president, the cabinet, and the heads of the two chambers of parliament, on Thursday the Foreign Ministry will lodge the name with the United Nations and it will become the country's official short geographic name, a ministry spokeswoman said.

The country, which emerged from the peaceful breakup of the old Czechoslovakia in 1993, has a one-word name in the Czech language — it's known as Cesko. But until now there has been no standardized one-word English name for the Czech Republic, unlike, say, Russia, the shortened version of the Russian Federation, or Slovakia for the Slovak Republic.

That has led to a lot of head scratching. The largest part of the country is known as Bohemia ("Cechy" in Czech), but there are also other parts, Moravia and Silesia, so one name is needed that does not exclude those historic lands.

The Czech Republic's adored ice hockey team has donned "Czech" on their jerseys, as have bottles of the country's premium export beer, Pilsner Urquell. But "Czech" is an adjective and cannot be used as a one-word name for the country.

Supporters of "Czechia" say the term in English can be traced back to the 19th century and was codified by the Czech surveying and mapping authority soon after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia as a possible one-word alternative.

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Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told reporters a simple one word name was necessary as "there have been distortions and misspellings" in the past.

'It's not good when a country does not have any clearly defined symbols or cannot say clearly what its name is," he said. "We have a chance to tell the world that here in the Czech Republic we use the abbreviated name and, in our opinion, there is only one way to translate it."

A foreign ministry spokesperson, Michaela Lagronova, told MailOnline: "What the Czech minister of foreign affairs is planning to do is to put an end to distorting our country's name in English (and some other languages, too) where many people use incorrect 'Czech,' 'Czecho,' 'Czechland' and other wrong terms."

The Czech president has already used the name Czechia in a number of speeches made during official foreign visits.

The equivalent of the word Czechia is used in other languages, just not English, according to Petr Pavlinek, a Czech academic at the University of Nebraska cited by a website campaigning for the word's use, Go Czechia.

"English seems to be the only exception. The main reason for this situation has been the inability of Czech political leaders to clearly tell the world how their country should be called in English other than with its official political name for the past 20 years," he said. "The Czech president is now attempting to rectify this situation in the case of the Czech Republic.

There is some opposition to the new name within the Czech Republic. Some people say it sounds ugly. Others, including Regional Development Minister Karla Slechtova, think it is too close to "Chechnya," making it prone to confusion.

This has been dismissed by supporters of Czechia on a "myth-busting" website. "Poor knowledge of country names or geography by some people should not be a reason for refusing a particular country name," it writes, listing multiple examples of countries with very similar names such as Austria/Australia, Mali/Malawi, and Niger/Nigeria. "None of these countries has decided to give up its short name and use its political name exclusively because of a possible confusion with another country."

Slechtova tweeted on Thursday that the Czech Republic had invested more than $40 million into a tourism promotion campaign using its full name, and should stick to it.

In some other languages, including French and German, the Czech Republic is already designated by a single name, but in Czech itself the name "Cesko" has only made slow progress since 1993 and "Cechy," or Bohemia, is still commonly used to mean the whole country.

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