What’s in a name: Three recent name changes on the Global Stage

IHOP wasn’t the only international name change met with controversy last week. When Greece and the country formerly known as Macedonia agreed to a name change (to North Macedonia), citizens in both countries protested, illustrating the complex emotions behind what a name. How a country goes about changing its name is as varied as why a country changes its name; both variances depend largely on a country’s respective government. While changing a country’s name at the UN level is as simple as registering the new name, any change can take a while to become commonplace. Below are four examples of recent name changes and the reasons behind the changes.

Let’s make life easier: changing the Czech Republic to Czechia

When the Czech Republic changed its name to Czechia in 2016, it was attempting to do English speakers a favor: as this Forbes article illustrates, the country had been struggling to come up with a suitable short-form name for the country since 1993 (and possibly earier) when Czechoslovakia became two countries. Interestingly, the 2016 change isn’t so much a name change as an addition: Czechia is the country’s short-form name (think: Russia = The Russian Federation); it’s official name is still the Czech Republic.

Czechia’s name change was a democratic affair: the name change was ushered through official government channels and adopted without angst. Since Czechia is the addition of a name (rather than an outright change), implementing the change has been relatively easy: government documents and official references didn’t have to be changed. Despite this, regular use of Czechia has been a slow- but growing- process.

Let’s end the confusion: changing Swaziland to Eswatini

According to the BBC, the change from Swaziland to eSwatini was made to prevent further confusion with Switzerland. A residual – and arguably more important effect- is that the name change shrugs off a vestige of colonialism, since the name Swaziland is a mashup of English and Swazi. As the BBC explains, this nod to independence was not lost on the country, since the name change was officially announced to coincide with eSwatini’s 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain.

In contrast to Czechia, the changing from Swaziland to eSwatini was driven largely by King Mswati III. While it could seem to some that the name change happened on a whim, eSwatini had been used by King Mswati for several years prior to the official name change. This name change differs from Czechia in the cost and hassle of adoption: since it is a wholesale change, official documents – including the constitution – will have to be changed.

Let’s make it official: Macedonia to North Macedonia

Adopting North Macedonia as a replacement for Macedonia is a change 27 years in the making. After Yugoslavia broke apart, the country adopted the name of Macedonia, a name that Greece found offensive, given the Greek region that bears the exact same name. The objections go further than this, however: Alexander the Great is considered a Macedonian, and both countries claim him as their historic hero. Losing Alexander would be considered a major blow to both countries’ heritage. Feelings on this are so strong that Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining both the European Union and NATO due to the appropriation of the name Macedonia.

Fortunately, a compromise has been met: both countries prime ministers have agreed on the name change from Macedonia to North Macedonia. Despite this, a few hurdles remain: Macedonia requires a referendum to be passed and both countries await official ratification of the name change. Should the name change pass, North Macedonia would likely begin a path towards joining both Nato and the European Union.