Officials in the Czech Republic plan to register "Czechia" as the short form of the country's name at the UN. But will it catch on? Ian Willoughby reports from Prague.
The Czech Republic came into existence in 1993 following the split of Czechoslovakia and is one of the only European states to refer to its political system in its commonly used name.
Most countries have an official title, such as the Federal Republic of Germany or the Slovak Republic, but are generally known by a shorter, snappier designation, in these cases Germany and Slovakia.
Tired of being the odd state out in this respect, Czech leaders on Thursday approved a plan to register "Czechia" (and equivalents in other languages) as the short-form version of the country's name with the United Nations.
Explaining the move, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told reporters he had frequently encountered mangled attempts at a one-word English name for his homeland on his travels.
Brewed in Czech
The sheer length of the three-word "the Czech Republic" has led some organizations to find short cuts. The leading lager Pilsner Urquell states on its labels that it is "brewed in Plzen - Czech" while some national sports teams drop the article to "Czech Republic" or otherwise avoid the full title. Sports and marketing are particular areas where the government hopes Czechia will be used.
Of all possible short names for the Central European country, Czechia is probably the best, in the opinion of Karel Oliva, director of the Institute of the Czech Language in Prague.
"It was originally coined in the 17th century in Latin and was, so to speak, forced into English," says Oliva. "I think it might be a reasonable option."
Czechia is the equivalent of Cesko, a short Czech-language name that gained currency in the mid-1990s despite initial resistance from some, including then President Vaclav Havel.
But while Cesko is today widely used in Czech (particularly in the media), Czechia has never really caught on in English. This is despite earlier marketing drives and being the preferred choice of senior officials like current head of state Milos Zeman, who says it is less "cold-sounding" than "the Czech Republic."
"Short names were implemented in other languages without any problem, like Tschechien in German, Tchequie in French and Tjekkiet in Danish," says Zdenek Lycka, who worked at the Czech Foreign Ministry on the official promotion of one-word names for the country - including Czechia - around the world.
It would be an odd situation if English were to remain a complete exception in this regard, argues Lycka, who is now head of the Czech Centers, a network of institutes that promote Czech culture on the international stage.
There has been a lively discussion in Prague over the fresh move to push Czechia in the anglophone world. While many have backed it, the regional development minister, Karla Slechtova, tweeted on Thursday that she was opposed to the name and was concerned that - as has happened in the past - it would be confused with Chechnya.
The debate surrounding Czechia is a "pointless" storm in a teacup, says Jeffrey Vanderziel, a US academic at the Department of English and American Studies at Masaryk University in Brno, the Czech Republic's second city.
"I don't see the problem with having a name that's different, a name that's unique. But Czechs don't like to stand out from the crowd - they want to be like everyone else," Vanderziel says. "I personally find it a horrible neologism and will never use it or encourage students in our program who are doing translating to use it."
Czech Centers chief Zdenek Lycka concedes that Czechia is problematic, in part because it starts with two letters that are Slavic in origin and almost never come together in English and concludes with the Latinate -ia, which is also unusual. "It's a strange beginning and a strange ending, and there's not much in between," he jokes.
Never too late
But Czechia is needed, Lycka says. Otherwise, speakers who find the three-word title ungainly will continue to improvise, sometimes with flawed results. "Even among native English speakers, people say things like 'I'm going to Czech,' just using the adjective. It's terrible - the language doesn't deserve this."
Some have suggested that the right time to promote Czechia would have been more than two decades ago, when the country was first established. "I don't think it's too late - it's never too late to implement something so important," counters Lycka, adding that, with sufficient backing, Czechia could be widely adopted within a generation.
Gerry Turner, who moved to Prague in the 1970s and has translated prominent Czech authors like Ivan Klima, says Czechia may well flourish if major local exporters like carmaker Skoda or crystal producer Moser start to use it in international campaigns.
Karel Oliva, however, has some doubts as to whether it will catch on. "I'm not sure if we write something on a piece of paper at United Nations headquarters that people on the street will really use it," says the linguist. "Language is such that it decides on usage by itself - any pushing of words is a mistake."