A simple AskMetaFilter question (“What does this pin say, and what does it mean?” Answer: Leningrad) inspired a woman with the username posadnitsa (“The posadniki were the medieval mayors of Novgorod. There was one posadnitsa, Marfa Boretskaia, but unlike her I have never incited Tsar Ivan III to invade my hometown…”) to comment: “My host mother in St. Petersburg made annoyed noises whenever anyone brought up Solzhenitsyn; how can anyone take him seriously, she asked, when he actually suggested renaming the beautiful city of St. Petersburg Nevograd?” Needless to say, this caught my attention; some googling turned up an article by Ekaterina Vidyakina on the history of the city’s names that said (my translation; the Russian’s in the extended entry):

The discussion was started off by a letter to the newspaper Smena [‘Change’] by the dissident writer Solzhenitsyn, who at that time [1991] enjoyed greater popularity; he announced that in his opinion the city’s name should not be changed back to “Sankt-Peterburg,” since “it was foisted on [the city] in the 18th century, contrary to the Russian language and Russian consciousness.”
Solzhenitsyn’s letter attracted many replies, in which Leningraders, as well as inhabitants of other cities, proposed their own names for the “nameless” city. Bearing in mind that Russians have never suffered from fantasy [?], one should not be surprised at the variety of names which our good fellow citizens wished to bestow on our city: Petropol, Nevograd, and the like.

So it sounds like it wasn’t Solzhenitsyn himself who proposed it, though it was in response to a letter of his. But I also turned up this sci.lang post by Andrey Frizyuk, who says:

As the name St.Petersburg isn’t particularly poetical, Russian poets (Derzhavin, Pushkin, etc) invented Greeko-Slavic names for the capital: Petropol(is), Petrograd, Nevograd, etc. When the WWI started 90 years ago, there was a discussion if the name should be changed to Petrograd or to Nevograd. The former version proved more popular in official circles, because it was first used by Pushkin in “The Bronze Horseman”. The popular nickname has always been Peter.

Anybody know anything more about this (to my ears stupid-sounding) proposed name?

The original Russian of the excerpt from the article I translated above:
Начало дискуссии положило письмо в газету “Смена” пользовавшегося в то время большей популярностью писателя-диссидента А. Солженицина. В нем автор заявил, что не следует, по его мнению, возвращать городу название “Санкт-Петербург”, так как “оно было в ХVIII веке навязано вопреки русскому языку и русскому сознанию”…
Письмо Солженицина повлекло за собой многочисленные отклики, в которых ленинградцы, да и жители других городов предлагали свои названия для “безымянного” города. Помятуя о том, что русские люди никогда не страдали от фантазии, не стоит удивляться разнообразию наименований, которыми добрые сограждане хотели наградить наш город: Петрополь, Невоград и т.п.


  1. I think фантазии (when contrasted with more serious or practical pursuits) carry a negative connotation in Russian. Would it make better sense to translate the word as “whimsy” or “creativity”?

  2. Yeah, but my problem is that it seems like she should be saying the opposite: that Russians have never suffered from a lack of fantasy/whimsy/whatever.

  3. They should just call it Sankt Pieter Burkh as God intended. Jesus.

  4. caffeind says

    Why not take a page from Michael Jackson and call it Nevaland?

  5. Here’s a cache from the Moscow Times which credits Solzhenitsyn with coining Nevograd (city on the Neva):
    But I found another site where someone very casually says that the city was renamed Nevograd after the death of Lenin:
    “Staline est mort. Son secrétaire Poskriobychev l’a remplacé. Mais lui aussi a disparu, tout comme l’Union soviétique. La Russie est dirigée par un « pentagonone », cinq présidents. Leningrad a été changée en « Nevograd ».”
    Is it possible was Nevograd was briefly adopted in 1924 before Leningrad? Nevograd seems to turn up on white supremacist sites, but I didn’t bother following the links.

  6. You mean Stalin and 1953, I presume. Weird.

  7. Wow … I really confused that. Sorry about that.

  8. About the fantasy bit — I think she means that since Russians typically don’t make up wild stuff (a dubious statement about the nation that produced Gogol, Bulgakov, et al!), folks suggested a variety of names based on common city name patterns. “Given that Russians have never been prone to wild fantasy, the particular variety of names they wished to bestow upon our city should come as no surprise…” I.e., they didn’t write in suggesting it should be called Sugar Pie or Star Fish.
    Although today they’d probably vote for Peter-City.
    Nevaland made me laugh! What should we rename Moscow?

  9. Ah, I think you’ve got it. Excellent.
    What should we rename Moscow?
    Moskvograd, of course!

  10. sredni vashtar says

    You shouldn’t expect too much from a Russian historian who writes “Помятуя” and doesn’t remember “Медный всадник” nor “Граф Нулин”. The ‘fantasy’ bit is crearly just a mistake – she omitted ‘a lack of’. “фантазии” tends to have negative connotations in plural, but positive in singular.
    As far as I can say, Saint-Petersburg was renamed to Petrograd in 1914 because of the sudden resentment against all things German, renamed after Lenin as soon as he was dead, and back to Saint-Petersburg after his heritage lost credibility.

  11. sredni vashtar says

    As for Solzhenitsyn, he is known for his weird dislike of any words borrowed from other languages (although Saint-Petersburg wan’t exactly borrowed… nevermind). He even published a dictionary of Russian words that don’t get used anymore, in order to provide replacement for the borrowed ones. He allegedly invented some of them himself, too 🙂 Anyway, strange to see how a famous writer totally fails to understand how language works.

  12. Never suffered from fantasy could mean fantasy hasn’t caused them any problems. I haven’t got a drinking problem: usually I get enough to drink.
    Why do new or proposed names always sound bad to so many people? What if you just like them, and liking goes off the scale when you first learn about Burkina Faso? I think Kaliningrad should be Kantgrad, and the enclave should be either Sambia or whatever the Russian for Amber-Land is. Hell, make it the Old Prussian for Amber-Land. Revel in the names you can use.

  13. solus rex says

    What should we rename Moscow?
    Нью-Васюки, of course.

  14. Solzhenitsyn also thought buildings taller than four stories were crimes against nature, and that no matter what happens to technology, we will always have the horse.

  15. Martha Boretskaya didn’t invite Ivan III to take Novgorod, that’s pretty much obvious to anybody familiar with the story of Novgorod’s fall and subjugation by Moscow. Solzhenitsyn was not the first to propose a different name for St. Petersburg, or to offer pseudo-Russian (Slavic) substitutes for loanwords — every Russian has heard of Shishkov’s mokrostupy and all that. Solzhenitsyn once made a sharashka prisoner (in The First Circle) stick to this self-invented rule: don’t use “birdwords” (loans) — but Solzh made gentle fun of that odd habit. Interestingly, Solzhenitsyn’s “Russian” substitutes (neologisms or archaic/regional words that sound like coinages) often make his texts sound aggressively modernistic; sometimes, though, they sound like a postmodern parody.
    John Emerson is right. The place was supposed to be called the City of St. Peter but the two-part name obfuscates this. Свято-Петроград (which I think Solzh used to support) doesn’t fix that; also, Russian omits свято- in toponyms: I know of no Свято-Троицк or Свято-Николаевск but there are thosands of places called Троицкое or Никольское. Early Russian authors tended to worship Peter I (“Он бог твой, бог твой был, Россия” — Lomonosov), and the city’s name was misconstrued to refer to Peter the Tsar rather than Peter the Apostle. This is what must be bothering Solzhenitsyn and the like-minded above all.
    BTW, critics of Mayor Luzhkov often call Moscow Большие Лужки. Opponents of mass immigration prefer Москвабад.

  16. Alexei: I was hoping you’d drop by, and that stuff is all great (I love Большие Лужки), but — no info about Nevograd in particular? I thought if anyone knew, it would be you.

  17. To be honest, having lived in Moscow most of my life, I’ve never heard Москвабад, but is sounds cool. Generally I think intentinally funny names cannot match actual official toponyms like the village Лягушачьи Подмышки or the town Нижняя Салда.
    As for Свято-, it is customary for church/monastery names, so it kind of means that the place itself is holy.

  18. LH: I don’t know anything that would support Andrey Frizyuk’s contention, “When the WWI started 90 years ago, there was a discussion if the name should be changed to Petrograd or to Nevograd.” I don’t remember seeing Nevograd other than in Solzhenitsyn-related stuff. The name doesn’t sound right if you ask me.
    I’ve run a Yandex search, and the first title I got was, “Pagans demand city name be changed to Nevograd.” There’s also a pagan/”hardcore”/far-right band called Nevograd. (On the other hand, wannabe skinheads tend to sympathize with their idea of all things German, so why would they cheer for this Finno-Slavic name?)
    sredni vashtar: you’re right about monastery names, of course. As for Нижняя Салда, perhaps you know that Russian bond traders call yields, елда.

  19. The city of St. Petersburg was founded on the place of an Ingrian town called Nyen (in Swedish; Nyen also means Neva in Swedish) or Nevanlinna (in Finnish), founded in 1611. The Russian translation of this name is, of course, Nevograd. Adopting this name would, therefore, have meant returning to the historical name of the city. I still prefer the mythological one, though.

  20. to my savage, ignorant ears, Nevograd sounds more like a small town in Serbia, not an awesome place like Leningrad

  21. Why wasn’t the name Kaliningrad actually turned back to Koenigsberg, or changed into something else, after the Soviet time?

  22. Tanel: the Swedish fortress Nyenskans, or just Nyen, was located at the mouth of the Okhta river, at the Okhta-Neva confluence. That’s to the east of the place where Peter founded the city (the fortress of Peter and Paul). Okhta was not part of St. Petersburg until after 1861, and was considered a working-class suburb for decades.
    Both Okhta and Neva are Finnish (or Ingrian, which must be close) hydronyms. Lots and lots of hydronyms and toponyms in European Russia and the Urals are of Ugro-Finnic origin, such as those ending in -va (“water” in various languages of that family, as far as I’ve read). Moskva (actually of unknown origin) and Neva fall into this group. An obvious analogy would require that the city on the Neva be called simply Neva.
    I’m taking it too far, but the big question remains — is the Slavic, but not specifically Russian root, град, typical of Russian toponymy? My guess is that it is found in very few natural names, as opposed to artificial ones. We have Новгород, Звенигород, Городец, Городище, Белгород (not Белград), Ивангород (pretty close to St. Pete, at the Estonian border): these are natural, organic names. We also have Волгоград, Калининград, Зеленоград — Soviet names all (Зеленоградск is even worse); we used to have Елисаветград and Петроград — poetic or bureaucratic inventions. That’s why Невск would be more or less live Russian (but too unassuming) while Невоград is totally dead.

  23. Unfortunately the Icelandic traditionalist placename site has expired, or I could tell you what the real name of Sankt Pieter Burkh is.

  24. But no! I found it.
    St Petersburg is Aldeigjueiðisborg (The great city on the karelian (ladoga = aldeigja) isthmus.)
    To find more Old Icelandic names, many of them original if nor fictitious, go here.

  25. John Emerson says
  26. John Emerson wrote:
    St Petersburg is Aldeigjueiðisborg
    I am sorry, but I cannot see how you make it stretch this far. Aldeigjuborg, Aldeigja etc refer to the city of Old Ladoga. Old Ladoga is first mentioned in Saga of Olaf Tryggvason (Saga Ólafs konungs Tryggvasonar): Eiríkr jarl … kom í ríki Valdimars konungs; Hann kom til Aldeigjuborgar “Eirik the earl came to the lands of King Vladimir. He came to Old Ladoga..” etc etc. In these sagas, Old Ladoga is mentioned only in descriptions of the viking period, which corresponds to archaeological evidence from the area, according to which this important trading town was settled by the Vikings in the second half of the 8th century. It was the starting point of the trading route “from the Varangians to the Greeks”. The name itself is, of course, of Finno-Ugric origin, probably a hydronym referring either to the Ladoga lake (*aaldokas ‘wavy’) or the river Ladoga, from *alodejoki ‘lower river’ (see Fasmer II, 1986:448).
    You can see a map here:
    There is no connection between Ladoga and St. Petersburg to my knowledge. It would be far more productive to connect it to the history of Novgorod.

  27. Yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking about since last night — Aldeigjueiðisborg must be Old Ladoga.

  28. John Emerson says

    The Icelandic site is a prank / crank site run by a Belgian. Aldeigjueiðisborg was probably physically closest to the present St. Pete, not an actual historical ancestor. (Or else it’s just a mistake).
    “St. Pete”, btw, is the American abbreviation for the American town of that name. (Around here the nickname for Alexandria, MN is “Alec”.)

  29. Alexei – it’s Aldeigjuborg without the eiðis, I don’t know where John’s prankster got it from. lad=ald with a metathesis, same phenomenon as grad=garð, by the way. And you probably know the sagas’ name for Russia, Garðaríki ‘land of towns’.

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