Toponym changes in the USSR and the Post-Soviet States
Robert J. Liebermann, December 1993

Introduction

     The policies of the late 1980s in the Soviet Union, and the subsequent dissolution of the USSR as a  political entity have set in motion widespread changes in all levels of  society.   The populace in the Post-Soviet States now has a vastly different set of  values which with it must view itself than just a decade ago, when political doctrine attempted, by means of widespread, careful, often forceful propaganda on all levels,  to set the "correct" path of  national destiny.   Serious problems  now face the newly independent states as a result of the Soviet legacy, and its somewhat abrupt end.   The most serious of these include what could be termed the  "three E's":  economic depression, environmental degradation, and ethnic conflict.   All will have major implications on the eventual form of the emerging states, and all will require major resources to manage, let alone resolve.

     A more subtle change has been taking place since Perestroika, though no less indicative of the overall trend: across the former USSR, toponyms, at various levels, have been changed from their Soviet-inspired forms, sometimes with unusual consequences.   While this may appear to be another unique product of the Soviet Union's dissolution, in fact, the policy of toponym "mix and match" has been a continuing part of Russian toponymy, which took on new proportions during the Soviet period.   St. Petersburg, for example, founded by Peter the Great in 1703, is an example of the permeability of the practice through political periods.   Peter originally called his city "Sankt Peturburg", the Russian transliteration of the Dutch form of his patron saint.   In 1914, when Russia was at war with Germany, the name was changed from the German-sounding form, to the Russian Petrograd.   Ten years later, following the death of the Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, the city was once again renamed, this time Leningrad.   In 1991, after period of debate and following the precedent of other Soviet cities, the name was restored to its original "Sankt Peturburg".

     This paper will address the issues involved in toponym changes, and show some of the underlying causes and unique problems of this rare phenomenon.   In addition, it will examine some of the trends and patterns , and offer a possible future development of toponym changes in the post Soviet states.   An appendix shows listings of some of the salient data involved in linear form.

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