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Czech out the proposed name

Zeman's comments spark debate on the use of Czechia in place of Czech Republic


Posted: October 16, 2013

By Daniel Bardsley - Staff Writer | Comments (4) | Post comment

Czech out the proposed name

Daniel Bardsley

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The name Czech Republic could fade from common usage, just two decades after it emerged on the world stage, if the country's president has his way: on a recent tour of Israel, he made clear his preference for the term "Czechia." A one-word alternative to what some consider an unwieldy moniker, Czechia has had its advocates since the 1990s, although none as high profile as the country's president.

While many other nations live happily with their multiple word names, the term Czech Republic has failed to stamp itself on the consciousness of some outside the country, with foreigners occasionally mistakenly calling the nation simply "Czech." The replacement in everyday speech of Czech Republic with Czechia could, suggest advocates, help to prevent such confusion.

During his recent visit to Israel, Zeman thanked the country's president, Shimon Peres, for using the term in a speech in English, with the Jewish leader having reportedly selected the word at the request of the Czech president. "I am very happy that you used the term Czechia just as I do," Zeman told Peres, according to media reports. Zeman branded the name Czech Republic "cold."

In the 1990s, the country's Foreign Ministry suggested the term Czechia should be used by embassies, except in official documents, and at least one other government department, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, has also pushed for the use of the name.

Yet the term has never caught on, despite having a long history, with one Australian newspaper, the Mercury, using it in an article from 1866. A key issue concerning a possible name change is how it might affect the marketing of the country overseas.

Tourism analyst Jaromír Beránek from Mag Consulting said "one word is always better" when it comes to branding. "It's more common [to have one-word names], it's much better," he told The Prague Post. While concerns have been voiced that Czechia sounds too similar to Chechnya, the North Caucasus Russian republic - indeed some commentators were even confused between the Czech Republic and Chechnya after the Boston Marathon bombing in April - Beránek said most people would be able to distinguish between the two. Also, he said it was not comparable to the situation between Slovenia and Slovakia, which are also sometimes mixed up with one another.

"People are confused because of the small distance between these countries, but with the Czech Republic and Chechnya, there's a much larger distance," he said. Although Zeman's recent intervention has raised the profile of the issue of the country's name, debate on the subject is not new.

Four years after the formation of the Czech Republic in 1993 after the separation from Slovakia, a group called the Civic Initiative Czechia emerged "to help spread, institutionalize and practically adopt Czechia." Started by academics and civic leaders, it said that for reasons of history, etymology, geography and other factors, Czechia should be used.

The civic initiative also said that if no single-word name for the country was adopted officially, Čechy, which is Czech for Bohemia, rather than being a name synonymous with the whole country, could be used more frequently, to the chagrin of Czechs from Moravia-Silesia.

While Zeman and a campaign group are banging the drum for a name change, among Czechs surveyed by The Prague Post, opinion appears to be split. Alena Brodaová, 36, who is self-employed, said Czechia "was not a historical name." "I'm pretty conservative. I would call it the Czech Republic … I think we try to make things simpler, easier, but I'm not sure if it's correct," she said.

Fast food industry manager Petr Stumpf, 26, is another not keen on the name Czechia. "I don't think it's right," he said, adding that there was nothing unusual in having two or more words as a country name. "The United States, you call them sometimes the US, but the official name [remains] the United States. I don't see why we should be called Czechia. In my opinion, there's no reason [to change the name]."

Others, however, take a view more closely aligned to Zeman's. Just as Czechs themselves tend to employ a one-word name for their country, either Česko or Čechy, rather than the full name, Česká republika, it would be good if foreigners could use a one-word name, according to Martin, a 41-year-old Czech economist who declined to give his family name. "I don't know what the right name for the country should be, but one word, a single word, would be better for us internationally," he said.

Cyril Ševčík, 52, a bank employee, agreed. "From a linguistic point of view it should be OK, because it's simple and everybody can use it a little bit faster or in a simple way," he said, while adding however that a name change could spark confusion among those used to the name Czech Republic.

-Tomáš Hrdý contributed to this report.


Daniel Bardsley can be reached at
business@praguepost.com

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