Czechia - the name dispute


“Czechia” (ˈtʃɛki.ə), the English short-form and geographical name of the Czech Republic has been disputed since the founding of the new Czech state, which was formed on January 1, 1993 with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Although Czechia has been occasionally used in the media and scholarly circles, the contemporary Czech state is the only one among the European countries without a widely used short name in English, while having its official equivalents practically in all other languages. Due to the unclear statements of Czech representatives to institutionalize the name, by restricting the denomination of the country only to the political name of the contemporary state “the Czech Republic”, Czechia remains lesser known in the general public and sometimes is substituted by the grammatically incorrect and practically confusing adjectival form “Czech.” This situation complicates a clear resolution of the Czech state in a historical context, both in general and particular levels of understanding the differences in the names.



The Czech state consists of three historical lands: Bohemia (Čechy /ˈtʃɛxi./ in Czech) - the western part, Moravia (Morava) - the eastern part, and Czech Silesia (Slezsko) - the north-eastern part (see the map). Due to the fact that the Bohemian part of the country had a higher hierarchical status in medieval times, the three lands were for centuries together called the "Bohemian Kingdom," "Lands of the Bohemian crown" or simply “Bohemia” (Čechy) in a broader meaning. This is why the name Czechia, as well as "Česko" [ˈtʃɛskɔ] in Czech, has been felt, for some inhabitants of the eastern part of the country, as more favourable for the Bohemian section, though these names in English, as in Czech, have always been proposed as a denomination for all the Czech lands, that is, for the entire country. This problem actually did not exist during the existence of Czechoslovakia (1918-1992) nor before, although the status of the individual parts of the land were changed several times throughout history. With the dissolution of the Czechoslovak state during the German occupation and the annexation of Slovaks into the Nazi regime "Slovak State" between 1939 and 1945, the country was called under German pressure "Bohemia and Moravia", however for a short time in the beginning of the so called "protectorate", the area was mentioned as "Czechia" in the press of English speaking countries. The problem with the denomination of the Czech state emerged in 1993, at first merely as a linguistic or quasi-aesthetic question, but later also as some local (in this case Moravian) reflection of the manifestation of general nationalistic or even separatist tendencies in post-communist countries (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia).


The dispute course


Early in 1993, the name Czechia was naturally installed and incorporated into the United Nations´ list of geographical names but, soon after, became a subject of discussion among Czech politicians and specialists, above all linguists and geographers., Primarily, however, the problem lied in different opinions of adopting the country´s appropriate one-word name in Czech language, i.e. “[ˈtʃɛskɔ]”, which was rejected by some authorities and also by a part of the population. Since there were no other reasonable options, the problem was not solved conclusively but simply abandoned without any definitive official decision. As a result, general usage has been limited to the political name only, i.e.,"Česká republika" in Czech, “the Czech Republic” in English, despite some recommendations in favour of Czechia issued by the The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 1990´s. After years of hesitation, the Czechs are finally getting accustomed to the country´s one-word name in their mother tongue, but the problem with its English form persists until today. Unfortunately, "Czechia" is currently not widespread, even though representatives of English-language countries repeatedly confirmed their preparedness to adopt it, and emphasized the fact that the decision depends on the Czech officials. Unlike "Česko", its English equivalent "Czechia" can responsibly be discussed by specialists (geographers, linguists) and/or people with advanced knowledge of the English language. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the Czech population has an opinion on the matter, regardless of their education or knowledge of the English language; only a minimum of the persons questionned do not have any opinion on the issue. English speakers involved in the problem are also diversified. They usually focus on aspects of practical usage, such as pronounciation, whereas Czech participants are more concerned with other attributes including historical and economic reasons but also special problems of understanding the meaning of Česko / Czechia in relation to the names of the "historical lands".


Czech politicians seldom participate in the discussion. They do so only on demand and possibly on official request, otherwise they commonly ignore it. They are permanently unwilling to make an official decision, partly because they are accustomed to use solely the political name, partly for fear of promoting some separatist tendencies in the state. The problem of the name appears in Czech media only sporadically and without any substantial general impact.The results of the ambivalent attitude of Czech institutions is documented by the appellation of the country in a contemporary "Index of countries" of the Czech Statistical Office from 2012, where - besides the political name "the Czech Republic," - the short-form name is grotesquely given as "Czech republic (the)"......


Throughout history, the status of many states change over time, including long-term loss of independence of the country. This seems to be one of the substantial reasons for the problem with the standardization of the Czech short name of the country, which was transported to English language in the circumvention of appellation by Czechs. The result of this confusion in English speakers (not only native), includes, among others, obvious tendencies to call Czech state throughout the history "the Czech republic", which is the blunder (including Wikipedia), because the republican system in the state did not exist until 1918. Probably the most obvious nonsense in Wikipedia can be found in the category "Centuries in the Czech Republic".


In the current dispute, the common reasons for or against using Czechia remain the same for years, despite concrete practical issues and inconsistancy with actual facts which have been continuously brought up. The ongoing inability to find a resolution despite its being constantly discussed has its origin and history in the English name itself: its linguistic form, pronunciation, meaning and various particular problems, the overwhelming majority of which arouse due to diverse explanations of the two names (both Czechia and Česko) in various parts of the Czech lands.


In some discussions, the expressions “Czechland” or “Czechlands”, were mentioned as possible candidates to the country´s short name but this form has never been officially discussed. It is barely used, sometimes it occurs as the collocation "Czech lands." The usage of the adjectival form “Czech” is relatively frequent in the general public, but it has never been officially accepted and it was completely rejected by specialists, regardless of their opinion on using Czechia. The reasons consist predominantly in grammatical incorrectness and impractical usage: it is a linguistic error where the nationality and adjective are interchanged with the name of the country, which is a rare case, if not non-existent case in English. The argument is documented usually in examples of a sentences like e.g. :”The usage of the word in Czech is not common,” from which it is not clear if the term refers to the language or country and subsequently, it all has to be explained by another sentence, or an example from some tourist guide “Beauties of Czech,” which evokes a connotation with the same characteristics of some person or language.


Vladimír Hirsch (2013)



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