Reporter's Notebook

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.

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Team Czechia Makes Its Case

The banner from the home page of the organization promoting use of “Czechia”

In the previous posts collected in this Thread, I argued that the country officially known as the Czech Republic should resist the idea of changing its “short English name” to Czechia.

Under a proposal from the “Go-Czechia” group, people inside the country would still refer to it as Česko, and its full official name would remain “Czech Republic” in English and Česká republika in Czech. But just as the place officially known in English as “People’s Republic of China” goes by “China” in common international parlance, and just as “Republic of China” goes by “Taiwan,” so too (according to supporters of the plan) should English references to their country be to “Czechia.”

I received a lot of ill-humored mail from people in the Czech Republic after I said that I thought Czechia would sound strange in English. A representative note from a scholar who works as a translator from Czech to English and German began, “I have to strictly oppose your argumentation in the article ‘People of Czechia’ …”

I wrote back to several pro-Czechia correspondents, and have had an extended exchange with Petr Pavlinek, who originally was trained at Charles University in Prague and is now a professor in the geography and geology department at the University of Nebraska — Omaha. (Bonus info: in my role as in-law to an extended Czech-American family, I’m aware that Nebraska is one of the centers of Czech settlement here, along with Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, and of course greater Chicagoland, where all of my wife’s Czech grandparents began their American lives.) With Prof. Pavlinek’s permission I’m quoting the back and forth. It clarifies some issues, and also is just interesting.

Round 1. Professor Pavlinek begs to differ with my views:

Your article on Czechia is very subjective and uninformed. It is very disappointing. Please, learn basic facts first before writing.

The fact that Czechia sounds weird to you is not an argument against using it. Czechia is perfectly fine in terms of linguistics. No one is taking the Czech Republic away and it stays in place as the official political name of the country.

Arguing for using Cesko in English is the same as saying that we should not use Austria but Osterreich or Deutchland instead of Germany in English. This does not make sense. To write an article based on what your family thinks without knowing the basic facts is unprofessional to say the least.

You can find the basic information about Czechia here: http://www.go-czechia.com

You should write a new article to put this right.

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.