Why did Prince Charles suddenly become King Karel in Czech?

King Charles III.

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, there was some debate as to what to call her successor. Until then he was known as Princ Charles, but almost immediately news organisations translated the name and called him Král/King Karel. So why the change? I discussed the matter with well-known Czech linguist Karel Oliva:

King Charles III. | Photo: Yui Mok,  ČTK/AP

“In our country we traditionally translate all names of important rulers, and also popes, into Czech, if such a translation exists. So we say Ludvík when we talk about Louis of France and we speak about Vilém, not Wilhelm, in Germany.

“At the same time, we speak about Hirohito in Japan, because there is no translation. But for monarchs who are from our cultural context, we, as a rule, translate the name into Czech, although there are of course some exceptions.”

So translating the names of monarchs is just a common practice rather than a rule that would be issued by the Institute of the Czech Language?

“No, there is no formal rule, just like there is no written constitution in Great Britain, and it’s still a constitutional monarchy. It is a habit, which might be even stronger than a written rule issued by some institution. It is a rule of so to say ‘good table manners’. By translating these names we show that we appreciate the king.”

King Charles III. | Photo: Jonathan Brady,  ČTK/AP

So why did we refer to him as Prince Charles in the first place?

“This is not very clear to me, because at the time when it started, I was just a small boy. Anyway, I think that ‘Princ Charles’ actually wasn’t a very good translation, since it should have been ‘kníže Charles’.

“However, there might be a combination of factors. The first of course is that he was not a monarch at the time. The second is that he became heir to the throne in 1952, so maybe the Communists were not interested in translating the name. But I would really have to speculate, so the frank answer is: I don’t know.”

So according to this common practice, the new Queen Consort will be referred to as Camilla, rather than Kamila…

King Charles III. and his wife | Photo: Henry Nicholls,  ČTK/AP

“Quite probably, because she is not a full-fledged Queen, she is Queen Consort, she is not a monarch. So I guess that the same situation will be with Camilla and the same rule will apply to William.

“So he will be William, Prince of Wales, or Kníže waleský in Czech, but when he ascends the throne, he will become Vilém, as we don’t say in Czech, William Dobyvatel, but we always say Vilém Dobyvatel or William the Conqueror.”