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The Czech Republic Wants to Change Its Name

Welcome to “Czechia”

"Prague, Czechia" has a ring to it, doesn't it? (Pacific Press/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Changing a person’s name is relatively simple—file a few forms, talk to a judge, start using your new moniker. But what happens when a country decides to do the same thing? The Czech Republic will soon find out as it goes through the steps necessary to adopt the short form of “Czechia,” Reuters reports.

The decision was just approved by the country’s prime minister, president and heads of parliament, writes Reuters, but it still needs to be approved by the cabinet. Though the country will still be called the Czech Republic, English speakers will now be able to use the shorter word to refer to it.

This might seem like a tiny detail, but it's actually the culmination of a longstanding internal debate over how to refer to the country in English. The Czech Republic’s foreign minister complains that people often get the name of his country wrong, and the president considers “Czech Republic” to be unfriendly sounding. While Czech natives refer to the country as “Česko,” as the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor notes, that name has uncomfortable associations with the country’s past split from Slovakia in 1993. “Czechia” supporters note that the word is already the grammatically correct short form of the Czech Republic—an official Czech mapping agency codified it when the country was formed, but it just never caught on.   

Aesthetics aside, the BBC writes, the change is primarily intended to make it easier to put on products and clothing.

Once the Czech Republic’s cabinet accepts the change, the country will make it official. That means submitting the change to the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, which helps standardize names on maps around the world. Once the name is registered, both the government and Czech companies will presumably start using it when they refer to themselves in English.

Czechia won’t be the only country with a short name; when’s the last time you called Germany the “Federal Republic of Germany” or the UK the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”? The big question is whether the name will catch on—or even be confused with Chechnya (“The Chechen Republic”), whose short name sounds suspiciously similar to “Czechia.” Then again, Czechia could catch on merely because it’s fun to say.

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