Looking for a name

The official name of the Czech Republic is a bit of a mouthful but, in more than 10 years, Czechs have been unable to agree on a short and snappy version which would serve as the country's geographical name. This week the upper house of parliament, the Senate, held a public session to try to throw more light on the problem and encourage Czechs to finally make up their minds.

There's something very personal about a name and Czechs find it difficult to accept something that doesn't sound quite right. Both linguists and the public have put forward numerous suggestions -from serious ones such as Cesko, Cechy and Ceskomoravsko to comical ones such as Lagerland or Havelland - but none of them has been taken up. The one that seems to be the most appropriate is Cesko -the English version of which is Czechia - but there's a serious hitch. Many people hate the way it sounds. Vit Stepanek, who is head of a cartographic company, explains why:

"The shortened name Czechia - or Cesko - is very short and harsh sounding. For instance when you pronounce the English version incorrectly - it can sound rough, harsh, tough and ..."

How is it supposed to be pronounced?

"Czechia"... in a soft way....when you say it the "harsh way" it suggests something which should be checked or controlled. I have been asked many times by my friends from abroad how you spell the name - and they always say is it Checkia ? and I say no it is Czechia - and that makes a difference, of course."

Most Czechs admit that their aversion to the name Cesko is emotional rather than rational. The reluctance to accept it is one of the few things that the former president Vaclav Havel and the current president Vaclav Klaus share. President Klaus always refers to the country as "the Czech Republic" -even on informal occasions, and Mr. Havel says the sound of Cesko makes his skin crawl! The director of the Czech Language Institute Karel Oliva has his own explanation for why so many Czechs don't like the sound of Cesko:

"It has to do with the history of the lands of the Czech crown in the twentieth century. Even though we have heard that these historical reminiscences are incorrect they are deeply rooted in the minds of Czech speakers. There is the reminiscence of the Nazi regime for the older generation and for the younger generation it is obviously the division of Czechoslovakia into two states where there is the false analogy that Cesko is the part which remained after the detachment of Slovakia."

While most Czech intellectuals hate the name Cesko and refuse to use it, businessmen are pushing for a snappier, shorter name which would help them to promote their goods more easily. Jiri Mikes is head of the Association of Czech Advertising Agencies.

"I am really in favour of that shorter name because it will help us to promote my country -as a brand name. Because "the Czech Republic" that's too many words you know...If you look at marketing communication - the shorter the name the better. We asked foreigners coming to Prague and Brno and other cities ...as well as the American Marketing Association and the London Institute of Advertising and they all said "Do it and do it very soon because you need it!"

So will Czechs make their own -and everyone else's -life easier by accepting a short and snappy name for their country? Vit Stepanek again:

"In the long term there is no other alternative than to use Cesko and Czechia .It is just a matter of time. People have to get used to it. The Czech Republic has been in existence for only ten or eleven years which is a very short time really. Give us another ten years and "Cesko" will be widespread, Czechia maybe as well..."