Six months after Czechia was adopted, citizens of central European country seem in little doubt over what it should be called.
Wenceslas Square in Prague, with its imposing statue of the Czech patron saint after whom the site is named. Photograph: Walter Bibikow/Getty Images/AWL Images RM
With its imposing statue of the Czech patron saint and wide avenues leading toward historic Prague, Wenceslas Square should be the ideal place for defining a country’s national identity – or at least its name.
So when the authorities decided to tamper with Czech Republic’s official branding they may have done well to road test the idea here, where national aspirations have often been asserted, and occasionally crushed, in dramatic fashion.
Yet, six months after the shorter and supposedly punchier name of Czechia was officially adopted by the country’s leaders, citizens of the central European country of 10 million people seem in little doubt over what it should be called.
“The Czech Republic,” answered one person after another on being asked to name their country, some greeting the question with disbelieving stares.
Czechs agree to be ‘Czechia’ as catchy alternative
“It’s a little confusing. Nobody calls it Czechia, I don’t know why,” said Lukas Hasik, 40, a software engineer hurrying through Wenceslas Square to an appearance by the Dalai Lama, who was visiting Prague. “People are used to the name Czech Republic by now and I would say we should stick with it.”
“It’s the Czech Republic,” agreed Zdenek Cech, 30, a medical student at Charles University in Prague. “I would like a shorter name but Czechia doesn’t sound nice. It sounds too small, or like some dialect.”
In April, Czech leaders, most prominently the president, Milos Zeman, who was the idea’s leading champion, announced that Czechia would supplant Czech Republic as the country’s everyday common moniker – in the same way most other nations are known by names that omit their official constitutional status.
While it would not disappear entirely, the Czech Republic tag, it was argued, was too long to attract attention on the global stage and woo foreign investment. Czechia would simplify things and be a more recognisable name.
Zeman used the shortened name throughout a recent interview with the Guardian. His initiative has now won the acquiescence of Britain and the US, among others.
The British government’s permanent committee on geographical names last month recommended that the country be henceforth called Czechia after the name was entered into the UN database. The US state department has also officially adopted Czechia as the short-form name, alongside the longer version.
The shift has prompted dramatic coverage in some parts. An article last week headlined “The Czech Republic stopped being a thing while you weren’t paying attention,” declared: “The Czech Republic is mostly dead: long live Czechia.”
The trouble is, Czechia is not catching on. Czech authorities continue to use the term Czech Republic on official correspondence and English-language websites, including Zeman’s presidential site.
The president’s spokesman also used the longer name in a tweet this week criticising the Czech culture minister for meeting the Dalai Lama. And Andrej Babis, the finance minister and Zeman ally who is originally from neighbouring Slovakia and is tipped to be the next prime minister, referred to Czech Republic rather than Czechia in a recent interview with Bloomberg.
“The one-word name Czechia isn’t for official use by state organs,” explained Jan Urban, a professor and political analyst at New York University in Prague. “It’s for unofficial use, just as British journalists say Britain rather than Great Britain, or as the French Republic is called France.”
Disagreements over what to call the nation date back at least to 1992, when the former Czechoslovakia divided in a so-called velvet divorce to form two independent states, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Urban, a former anti-communist, recalled that he jokingly proposed calling the new nation “Left-Over-Stan” to describe its repeated historical experience as a “leftover”, first from the Habsburg Empire and then the Cold War.
The name Bohemia was rejected because it explicitly excluded Moravia and Czech Silesia in the east of the country. Czechia was initially rejected for similar reasons, since it was derived from the name of the sixth-century Slavonic tribe that had settled Bohemia and was later adopted as the alternative Latin name for the province. Some also said it was too ugly, or that it sounded like the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Now it is back, angering some who think it misrepresents the country’s image and earning the mockery of others, who dismiss it as a joke.
“I like the name Czech Republic because it sounds non-racial,” said Jana Stejskalova, an obstetrician gynaecologist originally from Moravia. “Czechia sounds too eastern. It’s not a good sound for a western country.”
Eliska Cmejrkova, a Czech language teacher to Prague’s large foreign expatriate community, said calling the country Czechia could be justified historically but would be unlikely to stick.
“Czechia makes some sense historically but the common people will call it the Czech Republic,” she said. “You cannot change a language by law; it’s like a living organism. Only linguists and nationalists care about this. When I talk about Czechia with my friends, we make fun of it and never us it.”