Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

The Czechia Chronicles
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Readers in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and points beyond debate James Fallows’s post on whether “Czechia”  would be a good new name for the land now called the Czech Republic.

Show 2 Newer Notes

‘A Scandal in Czechia’

Screenshot of Google ngram tracking, of the uses in English of the terms Czech Republic, Bohemia, and the suggested new name Czechia. For interactive version go here. Czechia does have the virtue of freshness, since practically no English-speakers have heard or seen it before.

Before I disappeared into article-writing land, I put up an item arguing that today’s Czech Republic, homeland of all of my wife’s forebears back when it was Bohemia within the Austro-Hungarian empire, should avoid the mistake of changing the English version of its name to “Czechia.” Instead I suggested: either stick with Czech Republic, go retro with Bohemia, or embrace the country’s own name for itself, Česko.

Little did I know that a whole website exists to advance the name Czechia, and to address “The myths and facts about the short English name of the Czech Republic.” Give it a look (I resisted saying check it out) and see if you are convinced. One of the less ironclad parts of the argument:

Myth No. 8: There are other countries that exclusively use political names without any problems. Examples include the Dominican Republic or the Central African Republic.
Fact: Although that is true, the vast majority of countries use short geographic names. The Dominican Republic and the Central African Republic are the only two countries in the entire world that do not have readily available short names.   

The only two countries? Umm, New Zealand? Costa Rica? Sierre Leone? Burkina Faso, the one-time Upper Volta? Trinidad and Tobago? You get the idea.

A surprisingly rich stream of responses has arrived while I’ve been away, in three main categories: linguistic, historical, and flat-out angry (from boosters of the “Czechia” cause). I’ll start off with the linguistic.

Reader Andreas Stolcke, whose first language was German and who now does language-related computer work at Berkeley, goes into the details. The illustrations he has provided are Google ngram charts, showing the frequency of certain words in books over the years:

Two observations (and associated questions):

1) As a native speaker of German, I was surprised to read about the rebranding proposal because German speakers have adopted the proposal a long time ago!

Tschechien  is the popular way to refer to the neighbors on the other side of the Bohemian Forest. Personally, the term actually seems foreign to me and I like the sound of Tschechische Republik  better, but  this Google ngram frequency plot [below] proves I’m in the minority.  Maybe the Czechs had German branding consultants in this matter?

Caption

1b) BTW, the corresponding plot for the English terms shows that there is no contest. [That’s the one shown at the top of this post.]

1c) Analogous to German, how many have other languages/countries effectively already adopted the Czechia  proposal, i.e., have a commonly used term for the country of the Czechs that is a word with a root cognate to "Czech"  and a simple suffix that means "land of" ?

This is not Czechia                                      (Wikipedia)

My two sons are each 50% Czech by background. So through the laws of algebraic equivalence, obviously this means that I myself represent one full Czech person. When you add in Deb, my all-Czech wife, in turn it’s obvious that our household constitutes two Czech votes. And then when you include the two halves from our sons, that makes three of us.

OK, just kidding on the imaginative math, plus warming up for creative delegate-counting at the GOP convention this summer. But I can honestly claim to be a native speaker of English. And in that role, I entreat authorities in my homeland-by-marriage of the Czech Republic: please, don’t change the English version of your name to “Czechia,” as apparently you’re planning to do.

What’s wrong with this new name? The minor issue — again, drawing on my authority as an English-speaker, since we’re the intended audience — is that it’s weird. No one in the English-speaking world has seen or heard it before.