Czech public opinion was divided over the renaming of Prague Ruzyně Airport in honor of the country’s late president, Václav Havel, but there was wide agreement that the official literal English translation threatened to become a national embarrassment.
The awkward government-approved translation of the official Czech version (“Letiště Václava Havla – Praha”), dropped the diacritic from his first name, believing foreigners would have a harder time pronouncing it otherwise.
But “Prague Airport – Vaclav Havel,” a logical construction in Czech, was greeted with derision due to the clumsy word order. In English, it simply doesn’t work: it almost sounds as if he is the airport itself.
Eva Krejčí, a spokesperson for the facility, has said that a different name will be put in use on October 5, the anniversary of his birthday (which would have been his 76th): Václav Havel Airport Prague. ‘The English version, which was consulted on with linguistic experts, will be used primarily with regard to the international character of the airport.’
“The English version, which was consulted on with linguistic experts, will be used primarily with regard to the international character of the airport. For example, the building will be labeled in English,” she said in a statement.
“The Czech name, certified by specialists from the Czech Academy of Sciences, will be used in relation to the domestic population, for example in texts about the airport, press releases, announcements from the airport and in means of transport,” Krejčí said.
A petition calling for the honor to be bestowed on Havel, who led the dissident opposition to the more than 40-year-old communist regime and later went on to become head of state of former Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, was signed by more than 82,000 people with widow, Dagmar Havlová, in the forefront of calls for the airport renaming.
An April survey by the CVVM agency, however, found that 49 percent of Czechs questioned were opposed to the honor being bestowed on Havel, who died on December 18 last year aged 75. Thirty-nine percent were in favor, with 12 percent expressing no opinion.