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Forget Czech Republic, meet 'Czechia'

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Petr David Josek/AP

(Read caption) A vendor displays a T-shirt with the word 'Czechia' in a store in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday. Wanting a one-word version of its name to be used in foreign languages, the country is now promoting the use of Czechia in English.

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Pull out the maps and get ready to make an edit. To the relief of English speakers everywhere, the Czech Republic is getting a shorter, clearer name.

The European nation is adopting the name "Czechia," pronounced "checkia," as its official English short name, although its name for formal documents will still be "Czech Republic."

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"It is not good if a country does not have clearly defined symbols or if it even does not clearly say what its name is," Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told the Czech News Agency earlier in the week, explaining that he often heard his country's name mangled while he toured abroad.

Why does this change come now, just as Europe debates whom to let in and Britain ponders whether to let itself out? In some ways, the Czech change has been a while in coming. Although Czechoslovakia emerged as a republic only in 1918, its name has altered as it passed from democratic, to Nazi, to communist rule and back again, the BBC reported. The Czech Republic – or rather Czechia – split from Slovakia in the "velvet divorce" of 1993, three years after formally emerging from Soviet rule.

That same year, an official Czech organization suggested Czechia as a name for the newly autonomous nation, and the Civic Initiative Czechia emerged in 1997 to lobby for the one-word name.

"The name 'Czech-Republic' is the administratively political name of the current state formation, while 'Czechia' is the denomination for the Czech state as a more than 1,200-years-old geographical and settlement historical unit," the organization wrote in an article titled, "Why you should call our country Czechia." "The great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák ... was not from the Czech Republic, because such a country did not exist in that time, but he was from Czechia."

Czechs have long been sensitive about their nation's name, with the nation's sports teams alternately emblazoning their jerseys with "Czech," "Czechlands," or even "Bohemia," The Guardian reported. The country's leaders have not refrained from public complaints either.

"I use the word Czechia because it sounds nicer and it's shorter than the cold Czech Republic," Czech President Milos Zeman told then President Shimon Peres on an official visit to Israel.

Friday finally saw a joint announcement from the country's president, prime minister, and other members of the government, who said they were submitting the change to the United Nations geographic record now with the hope of using "Czechia" during the summer Olympics.

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"We recommend using the single-word name in foreign languages in situations when it's not necessary to use the country's formal name: sports events, marketing purposes etc," they said in the statement.

The reason for the delay can be seen from the response, which still included disagreement about the chosen name.

"I disagree with the name 'Czechia,' " the minister of regional development Karla Slechtova tweeted in Czech on Thursday. "I don't want people to confuse our country with Chechnya."

Establishing a short nickname in place of a longer, more politically descriptive name is actually more common than not. The Commonwealth of Australia, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Hellenic Republic (called Greece), and the Russian Federation are examples of these little-used, formal names. By calling itself Czechia colloquially, the country mirrors its neighbor, for which Slovakia is only the short name for Slovak Republic. 

The country is lobbying to change its name to Czechia in the languages of Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish, in addition to English.