Czechia, Czech Republic, Bohemia

Earlier this year, the Czech Republic adopted “Czechia” as the official short name of the country and began asking that it be used more widely. And while the change is being implemented in official circles, it seems to be having trouble catching on, at least in English.

It’s true that “Czechia” is not particularly euphonious in English. It sounds weird. I don’t particularly like the sound of it, myself. (I don’t know whether this is a particularly English problem, or whether the French Tchéquie, the German Tschechien or even the original Czech Česko suffer similarly.) But “Czech Republic” is a mouthful, and moreover it’s the official name, the same way that “French Republic,” “Swiss Confederation” or “People’s Republic of China” are official names, and we don’t say “Swiss Confederation” when we mean Switzerland.

I suspect the real issue is unfamiliarity: we knew the place as part of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1992, and didn’t know what to do with the Czecho part after Slovakia split. “Czechia” was proposed then, but even then it was not a new name: it was used to describe the Czech part of Czechoslovakia during the interwar years; I’ve seen it myself on maps from that era. But in using “Czech Republic” we’ve largely been following the lead of the Czechs themselves, who have been using Česká republika more often than Česko. (Apparently there have been attempts since then to encourage the use of Česko; see the Name of the Czech Republic Wikipedia page.)

Before 1918, English speakers knew the region as Bohemia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there’s a part of me that thinks we should use that name. I don’t think that option will ever be on the table, though. Even if it was, Bohemia is only one of three historical regions of present-day Czechia: there’s also Moravia and Czech Silesia. The way these things go—Bosnia and Herzegovina, São Tomé and Principe, Trinidad and Tobago, even Newfoundland and Labrador—you’d end up with a double- or even triple-decker name. If “Czech Republic” or “Czechia” is a mouthful, then “Bohemia and Moravia-Silesia,” or, if you’re feeling ridiculous, “Bohemia, Moravia, and Those Bits of Silesia the Prussians Failed to Annex After the First Silesian War of 1742,” is not going to be an improvement.

We’ll get used to Czechia eventually, partly because weird names eventually become familiar (remember how odd “iPad” sounded back in 2010), and partly because, as a general rule, populations should be called what they want to be called.