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What’s in a name? Czechia this out

Reports reach me that the Czech Republic is thinking of adopting a new name for itself, Czechia. Perhaps lingering, but unarticulated resentment at the Velvet Divorce when, like certain types of yeast, Czechoslovakia split in 1993 has led to the Czech Republic hankering after a new, shorter name for itself* for everyday life, giving it a duality like ‘France’ and ‘The French Republic’.

When Czechoslovakia split, I recall one British comedian, iirc Paul Merton, quipping ‘Who gets the ‘o’?‘ at a time when less happy places were engaged in wars over secession, the lack of it, or issues arising. However the rationale for this is at once banal and quite engaging:

The Czech Republic is poised to change its name to “Czechia” to make it easier for companies and sports teams to use it on products and clothing.

How nice for a State (or perhaps a country) to actually want to make life easier for business. Will they start as they mean to go on?

Not all are happy, it seems:

Some have criticised “Czechia” as ugly, or too similar to “Chechnya”, the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

I doubt that the Chechens would lower themselves to the sort of ‘passing-off’ nonsense that we see from Greece over Macedonia.

Does a country’s name matter? I have no idea how the new name sounds to the locals, but to my ear it sounds distinctly odd and unnatural. Perhaps I should go there to see for myself.

* Yes, I know countries can’t hanker, only people, and dogs outside a butcher’s, can.

40 comments to What’s in a name? Czechia this out

  • ap

    I was hoping for a name like Bohemia and Moravia which has the advantage of not being made up, but a quick search shows some unfortunate Nazi era associations.

  • Mr Ed


    Yes, the ‘Protectorate’ did spring to my mind when I thought of those names for parts of it. Perhaps a certain Queen song might dispel those associations?

  • To be fair, I think it has been referred to as Czechia in German pretty much since the Velvet Divorce.

    Trying to tell foreigners what you should be called (rather than just living with what they call you) does imply a certain insecurity.

  • Fred Z

    I was there a year ago and found myself correcting myself and choking out a long winded ‘the czech republic’ after first referring to it as ‘czechoslovakia’ from old habit, and later in the trip giving up and calling it ‘czechio’.

    None of my wife’s family seemed to mind, but they considered me a north american loon in any event.

    Lovely place. Got a pint of Uhersky Brod at a football club pub in a village called Blatnice for 50p.

  • Mr. Ed:

    How many fat-bottomed girls are there in Prague, anyway? 😉

  • Laird

    Well, it’s their country and they can call it whatever they like, but to my ear “Czechia” does indeed sound an awful lot like “Chechnya”. Not sure I would want that association. How about “Czechistan”? Or simply “Chex”?

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    What’s in a name? Tell Austrians to change theirs! Australians are more southerners than central Germans are! And when are United-States-Americans going to settle on a name for their Federation? Canadians and South-Americans would like to know? (Or do you have a secret plan to occupy both American continents, in which case ‘Americans’ would be completely accurate?)

  • but a quick search shows some unfortunate Nazi era associations.

    Having been to both, I assure you people in Bohemia and Moravia do not really see the terms Bohemia or Moravia as having unfortunate Nazi era associations.

  • Stonyground

    “How many fat-bottomed girls are there in Prague, anyway?”

    I don’t know but there are a fair few in Hull. Some of them ride bicycles too.

  • Mr Ed

    Tell Austrians to change theirs! Australians are more southerners than central Germans are!

    While we are here, as it were, ‘Austria’ is, in German, the ‘Eastern Nation’, or, perhaps it will be the ‘Ostmark‘ again, if these former names come back into vogue. No one is suggesting that the PTB in Berlin will deign to decide for them what their name should be, but if they do, Nick would you approve? It must be confusing coming from somewhere that sounds like it was the birthplace of the Terminator.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    People come here wanting Opera! Oh, sure, Sydney has an Opera house, but that’s just for the tourists! It’s hollow! And people go to Austria looking for kangaroos!

  • Mr Ed

    Nicholas, I had an Australian maths teacher who was an opera singer, he came to England to perform whilst moonlighting as a maths teacher. He told us about the Sydney ‘All Stations To Central’ mnemonic for cos, sin and tan functions being negative, quite why escapes me now, and he could easily get sidetracked into telling tales of Victorian-era explorers crossing Australia by canoe etc.

    And in Australia, you only have to worry about snakes, spiders and insects, not Sound of Music fans.

  • Alisa

    The Latin form Czechia is attested as early as 1634 and was first used in English in 1841 (Poselkynie starych Przjbiehuw Czeskych – Messenger of the old Fates of Czechia),[6] then for example in 1856[20] or in a report on the Austrian-Prussian war in 1866.[21]

    AFAIK, the name has also been common in several Slavic languages, on and off.

  • Alisa

    IOW, the name should sound quite natural to many non-English speakers. But if the purpose of the change is for the name to be more user-friendly to people outside the country in general, then English-speaking audience must be its main target demographic – so here we are.

  • Tim Worstall

    The problem here is that within the country “Czech” really refers to Bohemian, and Moravia is not part of “Czech”.

    Yes, I know, odd. But my local wine bar has two signs in the window. “We have Moravian wine!” and “We have Czech wine!”. Czech here meaning Bohemian.

    “Lovely place. Got a pint of Uhersky Brod at a football club pub in a village called Blatnice for 50p.”

    The posh pub in town charges me £1 for a half litre of Pilsner Urquel, possibly one of the best beers in the world. Quite, a lovely place.

    “How many fat-bottomed girls are there in Prague, anyway?”

    Tend to oncentrate on the callypagous ones myself of whom there are many. Fortunately.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray writes, “And when are United-States-Americans going to settle on a name for their Federation?”

    When United-Kingdom-GB&NI*-ites settle on a name for theirs.

    *Perhaps in these politically-correct days we should say GBNIQ or even GBNIQQ. Among the Ukkish tribes there are many who are both queer and questioning.

  • Mr Ed

    When United-Kingdom-GB&NI*-ites settle on a name for theirs.

    The Realm.

  • In the mid ’90s I had a French flatmate, R. Now he reffed the Czech Republic as something that sounded a lot like “Czechia”. He spoke excellent English.

    I love whatever you call that central European country. It is just barking mad enough. They dynamited an enormous bust of our good pal Joe Stalin and replaced it with a metronome. Prague is just awesomely weird. Best steak dinner ever. Place was run by ex-firefighter and when they put the heat to the meat they put their helmets on.

    I’d move there next week whatever they call it.

    But I have a problem. I can hack maths but I am a languages dunce. Only Bs I got at school were in French and German GCSE and Czech is something else. My wife is a languages wizard but can’t do Pythagoras. Somehow we muddle through.

    Having said all that and to steer this vaguely back OT – nah, it’s gone.

  • Greytop

    If I were Czech I would have wanted to call my country Fastvakia, as opposed to the snail-like one next door…

  • Andrew Duffin

    Taking my cue from Lubos Motls (pbuh), I had assumed that the locals called it Czechia already.

  • Paul Marks

    I think names do matter.

    Say Scotland left the United Kingdom – should the rest of the United Kingdom still be called the United Kingdom or should it be called “England”?

    Certain “libertarians” would say “England” – indeed they even sometimes call Scots such as David Hume “English” (and they do not mean “English language” – as they certainly do not include American English language writers such as Ayn Rand).

    I think this would be a disaster – leading to the loss of Ulster and Wales.

    “English” has got a racial tinge now – it did not use to have, but it has now.

    When I say that the former Bishop Ali of Rochester is “English” I am stared out – how can he be as he has brown skin and was born in Pakistan. I mean he is English by culture – but that does not seem to matter any more.

    I was born in England (as were both my parents) and have “white” skin – but, suddenly, I am not “English” either.

    The other faction of “libertarians” will (grudgingly) accept that I am “British” – but they down play that word (preferring the word “English” which enables them to exclude people they dislike), and they will also admit that I am a subject of Queen Elizabeth in the United Kingdom – but they do not really like Queen Elizabeth, any more than they like the Queen’s first Prime Minister Winston Churchill – who was half American and therefore, supposedly, evil (unlike Mr Hitler – who was not boo-hiss American).

    The “History of the English Speaking Peoples” is rather outdated to these “Alternative Right” Donald Trump supporters (they are willing to forgive Mr Trump for being America – because he is against NATO, and against the defence of Korea and the Pacific and so on)).

    As what language one speaks is not important any more – something else is far more important.

    I have considered telling them about one of the daughters of Donald Trump – but I do not want to shock and upset them.

  • PeterT

    When United-Kingdom-GB&NI*-ites settle on a name for theirs.



  • PeterT

    More seriously, as long as Scotland remains, Britain is pretty accurate. Northern Ireland is at least on a British Isle. If Scotland leaves, God knows. I suspect ‘Britain’ would still do, as per the approach of USA Americans.

  • Hang on: is Czechia pronounced Chek-iya or Chech-iya? I would assume the former, which sounds nothing like Chechnya.

  • Mr Ed


    A white Zimbabwean friend of mine, when a student in the UK, went into a travel shop to buy a coach ticket to Bradford. He was given and paid for, a ticket to Bedford, so he went back. “Nah, Ah sed ‘Bridford'”. was his phonetic response. You can’t be too careful with these things.

  • Alisa

    Tim, in Russian you would probably pronounce it as ‘Chekhia’, and I suspect the same is true with other Slavic languages. English doesn’t have that sound though.

  • Well, I call it Bohemia. I don’t care about what the Nazis called it. They had no right, and no ability, to taint an ancient name in a few small years of brutal occupation. Slovakia was also occupied and seems to have kept its old name. However, the main problem in the country itself might be that Bohemia is seen not as Nazi but as German; the name comes from Germanic roots, or at least the second part is cognate with ‘heim’ (Latinised ancient Germain Boiohaemum = home of the Boii). The locals may prefer Čechy – but we don’t call Germany Deutschland, or Georgia Sakartvelo, do we?

  • James Hargrave

    ‘from Greece over Macedonia’. Please, ‘The Hellenic Republic’. And seated next to a Greek academic at an event in Bulgaria, a reference to Macedonia (=FYROM) gave her the vapours.

    But to get back to Bohemia and Moravia, Czechia is in use by continentals of various stripes and unhappily finds its under-edited books in English written by such folk.

    But let us be clear, it should be Czecho-Slovakia (at least for 1918-?, 1938-39, and for the ‘Czech and Slovak Federative Republic’ of 1990-92.

  • Mr Ed

    Slovakia was also occupied and seems to have kept its old name.

    Slovakia in WW2 was in a very peculiar situation, it was a German puppet state but the Germans let the Hungarians peck away at its edges and there was a short war in the spring of 1939 between Hungary and Slovakia. The Slovaks then joined in with the invasion of Poland, a bit of inadvertent payback for Polish slicing at Czechoslovakia in 1938, and later joined in Barbarossa along with Hungary.

    The Sage of Kettering told me once that the situation of the Jewish population in Slovakia was unusual in that they formed, by and large, part of the peasantry.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I hate made-up names. Remember Consignia, anyone?

    No, what need to do is to plump for something with a bit of pedigree. Ceylon, Burma, Rhodesia, Upper Volta and South Vietnam are all available. As, by the way, are (IIRC) Ireland, Czechoslovakia and Sudetenland.

  • Mr Ed


    Genius. South Vietnam it should be:

    The South will rise again!

  • Rich Rostrom

    Mr. Ed: Re Slovakia in WW II – It gets weirder. At the end of August 1944, most of the Slovakian army rebelled against the Germans. (It was at this time that Romania and Bulgaria surrendered and changed sides; Finland had already done so.) The rebels held out against the Germans in central Slovakia till late October. Meanwhile, about 120 km to the east, the Soviets were battering through the Carpathians, but they didn’t clear the mountains till the end of November.

  • Tedd

    I didn’t realize until just now that most countries have descriptive names (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; United Mexican States; Eastern Republic of Uruguay) while only a few simply have names (Canada; Japan; New Zealand). I’m sure that means something, but it’s not clear to me what.

  • It means most countries have a lot pif history, some of it complicated.

  • Tedd

    It means most countries have a lot of history, some of it complicated.

    And Japan, Libya, and Mongolia aren’t among them?

  • I suggested ‘Zapadoslavia’ to a Czech acquaintance. That is, ‘land of the West Slavs’, on the pattern of ‘Yugoslavia’, ‘land of the South Slavs’. I am sorry to say that what I thought was a clever suggestion went down like the proverbial cup of sick.

  • Mr Ed

    How about ‘Škodaland’?

    OK, Škoda are German-controlled behind the scenes, but the Czechs are in the EU.

    Graham, I was thinking how no one really seems to miss the ‘Yugo’ of ‘Yugoslavia’, do they still make those cars?

    Tedd the ‘United Mexican States’ as a name goes back to the end of the First Mexican Empire, perhaps a copycat gesture to the United States of America, which could extend to Tierra del Fuego if a ‘State’ down there were given permission to accede to the Union, they put the ‘full’ name on their gold coins, I suspect it now conveys a hankering for Texas.

  • Laird

    Why not sell the naming rights, like we do with sports arenas? Think how much some companies would pay to name an entire country! Like Googlestan, for example. Or Czechbook.

    Sorry. 🙂

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Australia has many States, and Shires, all of whom could sell their naming rights to companies! Talk about lower tax rates! Melbourne-McDonaldtown, Canberra- Coke-burg, Sydney- Suzuki-dom. Love it!