‘I disagree with the name Czechia,’ Regional Development Minister Karla Slechtova tweeted some time ago. ‘I don’t want people to confuse our country with Chechnya.’
Confusion, in general, seems to surround the suggestion that we should now call the sententiously named Czech Republic, where I live, Czechia. As I understand from my Czech colleagues at LLP Group the attempt, spearheaded by the Czech Foreign Minister, to rename the country (or rather, the Republic) has failed. The Government didn’t approve the plan.
I myself thought it a rather good idea, and I started to use the term ‘Czechia’ in all the marketing texts I write and on every other occasion that arose. Apparently I even began to mutter the new name in my sleep. It’s simple and so much less ponderous than the longer form. And I really don’t think it’s likely to be confused with Chechnya (but then, as a resident of the place, I know that ‘ch’ must be pronounced as a ‘k’ so Czechia doesn’t sound in the least like Chechnya to me).
I wondered how countries get their names and how territorial nomenclature is governed. It isn’t. Confusion and disorder abounds. Look at the complete list of sovereign states on Wikipedia (not an uncontroversial list, since not all of them recognise each other). Most sensible states are designated using one-word nouns or proper names (Austria, Afghanistan, etc.). And many of them tell you something about where they are (African, for example), where they are in relation to one another (North or South Korea), the kind of political entity they are (Republic, Kingdom, Emirate, etc.), or the physical feature from which they are formed (Islands). Most also imply the kind of people you might find in the territory (Hungary, Albania, etc.).
Only a small minority take the form of adjective followed by the type of political entity, such as:
- Central African Republic
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Vatican City
Only ‘Czech’, ‘Dominican’ and ‘Arab’ give you any clue as to the kind of people you might find in their territories (does Vatican tell you that they all wear frocks?) and ‘Dominicans’ from the Dominican Republic only use the sententious form to distinguish their state from Dominica.
As for the United Kingdom and the United States, those names tell you nothing beyond the nature of the political entity (we are subjects in the former, and they are citizens in the latter).
One or two do it another way round:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Republic of Congo
- Federated States of Micronesia
Just a few are based on their physical form:
- Marshall Islands
- Solomon Islands
These might well consider calling themselves the Marshalls or the Solomons.
But the Netherlands are no longer the Nether Lands.
Wouldn’t it be entirely sensible, and easier for students of geography, if the United Nations reviewed the names of states and prescribed a standard form such as:
The [continental] [optional physical nature] [political nature] of [majority people, or, where none, other term] and a formula for deriving a short form.
So, for example:
- The European Republic of Moldova
- The European Kingdom of Belgium
- The European Republic of Czechia
- The European Island Kingdom of Britain
- The Caribbean Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
- The Eurasian Dictatorship of Russia
Sententious, but informative and practical
Though I’m not sure these are catchy enough.