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The Name Game: The Importance of Up-to-Date Locale Knowledge
Posted by Arle Lommel on April 19, 2016  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Translation and Localization, Web Globalization
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Countries don’t often change their names. The last major round was in early-to-mid 1990s when: 1) Members of the former Warsaw Pact removed “socialist” or “people’s” from their names; 2) the USSR split into 15 independent countries; 3) the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (“Czechoslovakia” or ČSSR for short) went through its “Velvet Divorce” yielding the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (“Slovakia”); and 4) Yugoslavia started its breakup into seven successor states. On April 14th the Czech Republic (Česka republika) announced its second name change in less than 25 years: Its new official nickname will be Czechia. Although its full name will remain unchanged, the Czech government wants people to call the country Czechia, just as they use the short-form “France” to refer to what is officially the French Republic (for République française).

Formed in 1993 alongside Slovakia, the Czech Republic is an important market, particularly for businesses based in the European Union. The Czech language ranks 25th in CSA Research’s 2016 list of the top 100 online languages (12th among EU languages), with over eight million speakers and an online GDP of more than US$163 billion. The country is unusual – although not alone – in that it never had an official short name, but it also lacked a common nickname in English. As a result, many English speakers were confused about what to call it. Some referred to “the Czech Republic,” others stuck with Czechslovakia, and some simply labeled it “Czech,” even though that is properly an adjective to refer to the country, people, language, and cuisine. Historically, English speakers would have called the country “Bohemia,” but that is properly the name for just one of its three regions – Moravia and Silesia are the other two – so it was politically necessary to find an neutral alternative.

The Czech government hopes Czechia will promote integration into European economic, cultural, business, and sporting institutions and help brand the country in a way that its full name cannot. Modeled after the names of other Slavic-speaking countries – like Russia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Croatia – that end in -ia, the new name choice has proven to be controversial because in English it sounds too much like “Chechnya,” the short form of a federal subject of Russia. This sound-alike name will cause confusion, just like the names of Austria and Australia or Slovenia and Slovakia already do for many English speakers.

Setting aside whether or not Czechia is a good choice, such changes raise important issues for international businesses. They will, presumably, want to use the new name in software user interfaces and support it in e-commerce. Tools for validating international addresses will need to understand and deal with it appropriately. Drop-down lists of countries will have to change to Czechia, which – luckily – will at least collate in the same spot as the Czech Republic. Dictionaries and spell-checkers will need updates to include the country name.

These changes take time to roll out, and legacy systems or older versions of software that are not actively maintained but still in widespread use will end up having to interpret the new name sooner or later. Organizations that rely on such systems will need to patch them to accept and understand Czechia, even if they are not making other updates. Keeping legacy systems updated is frequently a challenge because their programmers hard-coded names into systems.

Such issues are surprisingly common: Information about locales constantly changes. For example, governments routinely change time zones borders and the dates when Daylight Saving Time is in effect. Borders change. Countries semi-regularly disappear (the Netherlands Antilles dissolved in 2010) or appear (six new countries have formed since 2000). Some countries recognize these changes even as others may not (only three of those six new countries have universal recognition, for example, so localizers can end up in hot water if they get the details wrong).

Discovering information about locales and keeping abreast of such changes can be a real challenge. Fortunately there are resources to help. For example, Unicode’s Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR) contains information about locales in many different languages and regular releases of the IANA Time Zone Database help ensure that users can correctly understand time zones, going back to the 1920s in some cases.

However you manage locale information, change is inevitable. Keeping track of it is an ongoing and never-ending task. So as we welcome a rebranded Czechia to the world stage, let’s keep in mind that there is always something new on the horizon.


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Keywords: Country and regional market studies, Global websites, Internationalization, Language and market selection, Localization, Online gross domestic product (e-GDP), Web globalization, World online wallet (WOW) factor

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