I’ve been living in Prague since last June. I have a visa in this country. I know people who are Czech. And no one informed me that the Czech Republic is no longer the country’s name. Take a second to imagine what it’s like to find out you don’t know the name of the country where you live.
I was on a lovely day trip to Cesky Krumlov when I did something I rarely do: I zoomed out on Google Maps to see the whole route back to Prague. I had a moment of confusion when I saw the country’s name overlaid on the map: Czechia.
“Hmm… What the fuck is Czechia?” I thought to myself. I have a limited knowledge of the Czech language, but I know for a fact that in Czech, the name is Česká republika. “Maybe Google is just shortening it because the name is too long. Maybe it’s a map nickname. Like how you might call Tom, Tommy or your gnome named Honks, Honky.
So I did a Google search. My eyes were not deceiving me, and it was not an April Fool’s joke on Google Maps. The Czech Republic officially changed its short name to “Czechia” in the spring of 2016.
What’s the difference between the short name and the formal name? Well, nearly all countries adopt an official short name to replace the longer formal name. That’s why we don’t say the Commonwealth of Australia, just Australia. Or the Federal Republic of Germany, just Germany. I could go on. Almost all countries in the world have a longer official name that includes their constitutional status: kingdoms, republics, etc.
But the Czech Republic has always been known by its formal name – the one that appears on legal and official documents. It’s been that way since 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into two: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As you can imagine, there were disagreements about what to call the country even back then, and the name Czechia was tossed around, but ultimately rejected. Obviously… the name is awful. It sounds like someone mispronounced Chechnya.
The Czech president decided last year that Czechia would be the new name to make the country more “recognizable,” a move that was then approved by the country’s cabinet. In May, the UN published the new name in its database. And the Permanent Commission on Geographical Names followed suit in September. It wasn’t until January 2017 that Google Maps updated the name, so I guess now it’s official.
But despite all these official changes in every known country register, the only people that remain unconvinced are Czechs (and any foreigners who know what the Czech Republic is). No one calls it that. In all the months I’ve lived here, I’ve never heard Czechia escape anyone’s mouth. People are used to the Czech Republic, and no law is going to change that in people’s minds.
It’ll just be a weird idiosyncratic nickname that the country tried to force on itself, like the lamest person in the EU. And they’ll probably just change it back after a couple of years when the Czechs refuse to budge (as they have for the past year). But I guess until then, I live in Czechia, the country formally known as the Czech Republic of the former Czechoslovakia.