The Symbolic Power of Place Names: The Case of the River Olše/Olza/?olza in Northeastern Czechia
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It is not uncommon for place names to become symbols of national identity. Once in that position, such names often play a significant symbolic role in national and local politics. It is less common, however, for actual place name usage to significantly contradict declared place name preferences such that for official purposes people prefer a name variant that they do not use themselves. This article describes an instance of just such cognitive dissonance in a trilingual region in the Czech-Polish borderlands. As will be shown, arguments over which variant to use in this region have been marked by ongoing debates about multilingualism in the linguistic landscape. The parallel usage of the names Olše/Olza/?olza for the local river shows how important place names can be in articulating national belonging in spite of actual place name usage. The analysis is based on the results of a survey conducted on a large population sample. The questionnaire results are supplemented by interviews and secondary literature.
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