The controversy takes me back to my early days, 1990-92, in the old bi-national federation, when Slovaks pushed for hyphenated spellings like Czecho-Slovak, arguing they were as natural as Serbo-Croatian. It never stuck, among either English-speakers or Czechs, but no matter—the country soon divided.
The Slovaks got the better deal on the name. Československo and Czechoslovakia shortened nicely to Slovensko and Slovakia. But even Czechs took years to get used to Česko as short for Česká Republika, and “Czechia” never took off among English-speakers. And so the search goes on for a snappier name, better suited to tourist brochures and hockey jerseys.
Somehow this recalls the dispute over the Budweiser brand, which shared its name with a far better beer from the Southern Bohemian town of České Budějovice, known in German as Budweis. The derivation was simple: just add the –er suffix to get the proper adjective: Budweiser. After litigation and negotiations, the U.S. brewing giant came to an agreement with the small Czech outfit, which now markets its product internationally as Czechvar and domestically as Budvar.
The country’s name in German helps explain why some officials are pushing for Czechia. For decades, the bi-national state had been called die Tschechoslovakei. But after the split, the short form die Tschechei was out because it had been used for the Nazi-era Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The German, Swiss, Austrian and Czech press agencies soon agreed to use Tschechien instead.
In the search for a Bud-Light equivalent for the Czech Republic, many possibilities come to mind. The “Czech Lands” is one, but it smacks of former times, as in “Crown Lands.” “Czechland” or “Czechistan” would be a bad joke. Czechia became confused with Chechnya in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. And given all the sour puns on the Czech/check homophony in English, all the hand-wringing seems understandable.
Czechia would be the most closely analogous to Česko, Tschechien, and equivalents from Spanish Chequia to Russian Chekhia. But to most English-speakers, Czechia just sounds awkward. Or is it a matter of habituation? After all, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, I gradually dropped “Belorussia” and learned to say “Belarus”—even if it did remind me of “walrus.”
For more on the issue, see the link in the first paragraph or these:
Radio interview with Jan Čulik, who teaches Czech studies in the UK.
And a BBC print article.