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Not many countries have entire articles dedicated to their various names. Then again, most countries’ histories aren’t as complicated as that of the Czech Republic — or is it Czechia? That's a question the Central European nation that used to form one half of Czechoslovakia has been grappling with for nearly a century. The country’s name led to an etymological debate that reached a new level when Czechia was officially registered as its short-form name in the United Nations database in 2016. Given that many have yet to hear that moniker, the confusion is unlikely to end anytime soon.
So Which Is It?
The short answer to the question, “Should I call it Czechia or the Czech Republic?” is that either is acceptable and correct. The long answer would have to take into account the country’s history, geography, and desire to become a bit more like France, Germany, and Spain (countries with longer official names mostly reserved for international relations: the French Republic, Federal Republic of Germany, and Kingdom of Spain, respectively. Such an effort will surely take many years to fully catch on, but stranger things have happened — many of them in Czechia itself.
What’s in a Name?
Czechoslovakia, also known as Československo in the Czech language and Česko‑Slovensko in Slovak, existed as a sovereign state from 1918 until 1993 — a period bookended by its declaration of independence from Austria-Hungary and the country’s two halves deciding to go their separate ways. The latter event is often referred to as the Velvet Divorce, which takes its name from the 1989 Velvet Revolution — a nonviolent transfer of power that marked the end of the Communist Party's reign in the country. Slovakia kept it simple when it came to naming itself, while its friend to the west clearly did not (“Czecho” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue).
The root word in all of these monikers is, of course, Czech, which refers to the Slavic tribe that inhabited the region as far back as the ninth century. Known as the Češi in their native tongue, the tribe is believed to be named after one of the three legendary brothers (Pol, Czech, and Rus) who founded their respective lands.
Making matters more complicated still is the fact that Bohemia, the region known for the unconventional, artistically-minded lifestyle it inspired, is itself part of the Czech Republic as well; indeed, the Czech name for the Bohemian area is Čechy. There’s also the fact that only a handful of countries' names formally begin with the definite article, with the Gambia and the Netherlands being prominent examples. Simplicity and brevity tend to be goals when it comes to names — something Czechia achieves in a way that the Czech Republic does not.
Where the People Stand
As you can imagine, this is a point of contention in the country itself — as recently as last year, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and President Miloš Zeman were on opposite sides of the issue. “I didn’t know this. I don’t like it at all,” Babis said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal when informed of the UN’s decision to recognize the new name. “It’s because then you will confuse Czechia, Chechnya, I don’t know. I don’t like this. We are Czech Republic. We are Czechs. And I don’t know who came with such a stupid idea. Crazy.” When asked about the rift, a spokesperson for the president only stated: “The prime minister has a different opinion than the president. This is freedom and democracy. That is all.”
Foreign embassies, companies like Google, and travel websites have taken sides as well, with many appearing to err on the side of caution by officially going with the Czech Republic while making note of Czechia as well; some use both names interchangeably, like the country’s own embassy in Australia, which last year celebrated “The Year of Czechia in Australia” while still formally being known as the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Canberra.
It’s a compromise that’s likely to cause as much clarity as confusion, at least for now, but one thing remains certain: Whether you call it the Czech Republic or Czechia, the nation is a beautiful, vibrant country whose future looks to be just as fascinating as its past.