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In English, we are Czechia

Rudolf Šrámek, a scholar of Czech language and literature, comments on the heated debate regarding the one-word name for the Czech Republic.

When the Czech Republic was established as a new European country, international communication was quick to come up with a “shortened” name. But we failed to take note of that. We keep arguing and making communication more difficult.

Recently, there has been a new wave of interest among the public, media, politicians, businesspeople, and others regarding a problem that has been on and off the scene ever since the Czech Republic was established. The problem consists in a shorter version of the name of our country.

Experts in proper names together with the Geographic Names Authority of the State Administration of Land Surveying and Cadastre issued a proposal to call the Czech Republic Česko in the Czech language as a short form in 1993, with the support of several civic organisations as well as some public support. This is no neologism. The name was first recorded in 1777 and is formed properly, just like Slovensko (Slovakia), Polsko (Poland), Švédsko (Sweden), etc. Nevertheless, it took almost 20 years before the name really took hold. Nowadays, it works well in internal (Czech) communication.

Unfortunately, a short name for international communication remained an unresolved issue. As the overwhelming majority of international communication today is in English, Czechia was suggested as the short version. There were three main factors supporting this decision: 1) Czechia is attested since 1604; 2) it covers the historical Czech lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; and 3) many proper names in English end in -ia (Austria, Australia, Slovakia, Romania, historically also Anglia, etc.).

However, Czechia as a name has continued to be questioned for reasons that seem to be surprisingly unaware of the formation, codification, and usage of names of countries and that strongly underestimate the representative and “labelling” function of a one-word name of our country in other languages.

As a consequence, our ice-hockey team won the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano with jerseys that said “Czech” and creating a name for the country became a playground for popular creativity and imagination. The suggestions included names like Bohemosia or Čechomors – as in Čechy (Bohemia), Morava (Moravia), and Slezsko (Silesia). That would result in the tongue-twisting adjective českomoršský and our citizens would be called Českomoršané! The primary name of every country is its “full” name, which usually includes information about its system of government (Slovenská republika, Republik Österreich, Kongeriget Danmark, Türkyie Cumhuriyeti) and which is official, binding, and codified by legislation, even in its translations (Slovak Republic, Republic of Austria, Kingdom of Denmark, Republic of Turkey). This “full” name is used primarily in political and diplomatic documents, in treaties, and in other official texts and occasionally also on maps.

However, “full names” are not suitable for everyday communication, and therefore we have “short names” such as Slovakia, Austria, Denmark, Turkey, etc.

“Short names” are, in accordance with international usage, just as officially valid as “full names”, if they are included in UN documents and in the agenda of the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names. It is quite often the case that people hardly know the “full name” at all, let alone in the original language: the official name of Macedonia is the Republic of Macedonia. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Short names are very frequent in international communication. Their English versions are used in banking, meteorological services, international registration of patents, ISO systems, flight dispatching service, the post, most maps, registers of EU places and regions, localisation of international ranking of universities, the tourism industry, etc.

When the Czech Republic was established as a new European country, international communication was quick to come up with “shortened” names. The German Tschechien, English Czechia, French Tchéquie, Danish Tjekkiet, Russian Čechija etc. all began to appear as early as 1993. But we failed to take note of that. We keep arguing and making communication more difficult.

If somebody out in the wider world asks you “Where are you from?”, say that you’re “from Czechia”. You will help to improve the reputation of your homeland in communication networks.

The author works as a professor at Department of Czech Language and Literature, Faculty of Education, Masaryk University.