When Was St. Petersburg Known as Petrograd and Leningrad?

How Modern Russian History Renamed a City Three Times in a Century

St. Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city and it has been known by a few different names. In the over 300 years since it was established, St. Petersburg has also been known as Petrograd and Leningrad, though it's also known as Sankt-Peterburg (in Russian), Petersburg, and just plain Peter.

Why all of the names for a single city? To understand the many aliases of St. Petersburg, we need to look at the famous city's history.

1703 - St. Petersburg

Peter the Great founded the port city of St. Petersburg on the very western edge of Russia in 1703. Located on the Baltic Sea, he desired to have the new city mirror the great 'Western' cities of Europe where he had traveled while studying in his youth.

Amsterdam was one of the primary influences on the czar and the name St. Petersburg has a distinctly Dutch-German influence.

1914 - Petrograd

St. Petersburg saw its first name change in 1914 when World War I broke out. The Russians thought that the name sounded too 'German' and it was given a more 'Russian' name.

  • 'Petro' clearing retains the honor to Peter the Great in the city's name.
  • 'grad' is a common suffix used in a number of Russian cities and localities.

1924 - Leningrad

Yet, it was only ten years that St. Petersburg was known as Petrograd because in 1917 the Russian Revolution changed everything for the country. At the beginning of the year, the Russian monarchy was overthrown and by year's end, the Bolsheviks took control.

This led to the world's first communist government.

The Bolsheviks were led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and in 1922 the Soviet Union was created. After Lenin's death in 1924, Petrograd became known as Leningrad to honor the former leader.

1991 - St. Petersburg

Fast forward through almost 70 years of the Communist government to the fall of the USSR.

In the years to follow, many places in the country were renamed and Leningrad became St. Petersburg once again.

Changing the city name back to its original name did not come without controversy. In 1991, the citizens of Leningrad were given the opportunity to vote on the name change.

As reported in the New York Times at the time, there were many opinions throughout the country about the switch. Some people saw a renaming to 'St. Petersburg' as a way to forget the decades of turmoil during Communist rule and an opportunity to reclaim its original Russian heritage. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, saw the change as an insult to Lenin.

In the end, St. Petersburg was returned to its original name. In Russian, it is Sankt-Peterburg and locals call it Petersburg or simply Peter. You will still find some people who refer to the city as Leningrad.