The Historical Case for ‘Czech Republic,’ the Bonus Case for ‘the Czechlands’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Colors and patterns of the Czech Republic flag as rendered with favorite Czech foods, from vepřo knedlo zelo site. Image by Vojta Herout.

We may be nearing the home stretch here, but I didn’t want to get there without mentioning the case for the (apparently) unloved current name for the homeland of the Czechs: the Czech Republic. Side note: I have yet to hear from a native English-speaker who thinks that “Czechia” is a great idea. This matters because the whole point of Czechia is to give the country a new “short English name.”

Andrea Orzoff, of the history department at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, writes about the actual merits of “Czech Republic,” as opposed to mainly pointing out (as I have done) the defects of its proposed replacement, “Czechia.” She writes:

There's a better, more historically grounded reason to keep "Czech Republic" than euphony. Czechoslovakia came into existence because its leaders promised to craft a democracy at home and foster democratic internationalism through the League of Nations.

They kept that promise, however imperfectly. Czechoslovakia maintained an adherence to democracy through 1938, and again from 1945 to 1948.

In 1989, philosopher-president Václav Havel made a point of quoting the country's first president, Tomáš Masaryk, to announce the end of Communism: "people, your government has returned to you!"

Masaryk himself was quoting the 17th century thinker Jan Comenius, which makes my point in a different way: this is a country with a long humanistic tradition as well as a strong democratic one. Worth keeping.

And maybe a useful reminder in the face of recent Czechpolitical behavior -- polls showing increasing xenophobia, president Miloš Zeman drawing closer to Vladimir Putin, internationally embarrassing treatment of Syrian refugees, etc.

Makes sense to me.

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The other favorite in the anti-Czechia derby has been “the Czechlands,” on the model of “the Netherlands.” A few sample arguments:

As another potential new name for the Czech Republic, why not use "TheCzechlands" It's not inaccurate, and can cover Bohemia, Moravia and CzechSilesia. Think of it as "the Dutch Solution".

And:

I have no particular standing to weigh in, but for what it's worth: I'm a little surprised not to have seen anyone suggest "Czechland" or "the Czechlands," which seem to avoid a number of the pitfalls of Czechia and would be analogous to a number of familiar English forms.

"Czechland" and "Czechlands" are rare in English but not totally unattested (Czechia, FWIW, has always been much more common than either and totally dwarfs both when it's included in the ngram).

Apparently "Czechland" was also the preference of the Czech foreign minister after the Velvet Divorce. There's a Wikipedia page for "the Czech lands", i.e. Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia (which features the map that accompanied your first post on this topic).

I do sympathize with the desire to have a short-form name. Obviously there are other countries with two-word names, but "Republic" is a longish word, and a fairly generic one. Many, many countries have a long-form name that includes "Republic." But most countries also have a name that simply refers to the country itself; it's very rare for there to be no alternative to a name with the form "demonym + republic." "Czech" is a demonym in search of a country.

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Also Paul Christansen, author of the site vepřo knedlo zelo (or “pork, dumplings, sauerkraut” — Czech staples) weighs in with a post called “To the Barricades! Fight the Czechia.” He ends up arguing on behalf of “the Czech Lands” too:

Do I have any alternative of my own to propose? Yes, though it is not a perfect solution: “the Czech Lands.” It does have the advantage of saving two syllables over “the Czech Republic” and it is more poetic than the official title.

Thanks to all. This is what you get by marrying into a Czech family, but on balance it’s all worthwhile.