When Peter the Great of Russia established Saint Petersburg he originally called it Sankt-Pieter-Burch (Сан(к)т-Питер-Бурхъ) in Dutch manner. Later, under apparent German influence it was changed to Sankt-Peterburg (Санкт-Петербу́ргъ).

Is it known why Peter the Great chose to name the would be new Russian capital city using a name styled from a foreign language and why he didn't choose a Russian equivalent, something like Svatoy Petrograd (Святой Петрград)?

  • 11
    What research have you done?
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:52
  • 7
    Have you looked to see where the royal family came from and which language they commonly used? Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:57
  • 7
    @MarkJohnson - TBF: It may not be obvious to the general public that royalty were that level of isolated from their people. I know it surprised me when I first realized it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 19:09
  • 17
    @MarkJohnson The Russian royal family was very Russian at the time of Peter the Great. It was Peter himself that started the wave of non-Russian influence.
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 22:51
  • 3
    @Mast Sankt is German (would be Sint in Dutch), Pieter is Dutch and Burch seems to be a convolution of Dutch Burcht and German Burg (Burg written with Dutch derived spelling).
    – Tonny
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


The whole point of the reign of Peter the Great was to "modernize" (westernize) Russia. Per the wikipedia article,

"Peter implemented sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing Russia.[10] Heavily influenced by his advisors from Western Europe, Peter reorganized the Russian army along modern lines and dreamed of making Russia a maritime power. He faced much opposition to these policies at home but brutally suppressed rebellions against his authority, including by the Streltsy, Bashkirs, Astrakhan, and the greatest civil uprising of his reign, the Bulavin Rebellion. Peter implemented social modernization in an absolute manner by introducing French and western dress to his court and requiring courtiers, state officials, and the military to shave their beards and adopt modern clothing styles. One means of achieving this end was the introduction of taxes for long beards and robes in September 1698.In his process to westernize Russia, he wanted members of his family to marry other European royalty. In the past, his ancestors had been snubbed at the idea, but now, it was proving fruitful. He negotiated with Frederick William, Duke of Courland to marry his niece, Anna Ivanovna. He used the wedding in order to launch his new capital, St Petersburg, where he had already ordered building projects of westernized palaces and buildings. Peter hired Italian and German architects to design it."

He felt that Russia was "backward" and the last thing he wanted was a new city with a Russian name. He also wanted St. Petersburg as a port (window to the world) at which to build a new navy, and wanted to attract "foreigners" to help him in this endeavor.

  • Is this a predecessor to glasnost ? Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 21:38
  • 10
    @StefanSkoglund, do you mean perestroyka? Glasnost was just a term for the "government transparancy".
    – user28434
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 22:09
  • Check out Uskoreniye (though glasnost as a theme is old in russia but it can be translated as openness ie in the tsar era it concerned juridical proceeding Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 22:26

To add to Tom's answer which I voted for. Peter the Great was fascinated with the West from an early age. He was the first and only Czar of Russia to travel extensively across western Europe (March 9, 1697 to August 25, 1698). On his travels he studied western science and crafts, not only recruiting skilled labours for Russia but participating himself in learning skills. St. Petersburg and the modern Russian navy Peter is credited with building both came out of that Great Embassy.

Peter's primary ambition was a year round Port for Russia both in the North Atlantic (St Petersburg) and on the Black Sea which was dominated by the Ottoman Empire in Peters day. Once he had the access these water ways he wanted to not only keep that land but exploit it to modernize Russia. To do that he recognized he needed skills which Western Europe had developed.

Grand Embassy of Peter the Great
Peter visited the Royal Observatory, the Royal Mint, the Royal Society, the University of Oxford, as well as several shipyards and artillery plants. He studied the English techniques of city-building. He would later use that knowledge to great effect at Saint Petersburg.[7] In Deptford's royal dockyards, he acquired skills that later helped him raise a Russian fleet; he studied in the Royal Observatory to improve Russian navigational skills; in Woolwich Arsenal he learned how to produce artillery.[3] Although Peter had numerous opportunities to spend time with Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, and Edmund Halley, he did not meet with them.[2]

Instead, he concentrated on his goal of acquiring valuable technology that "had ultimately proved frustrating" in the Netherlands.[2] The Dutch had one of the most sophisticated shipyard operations in Europe but most of their work method were not written down. Instead, in Peter's own words, they used "measure of intuition and unwritten custom that was difficult to codify".[2] The decision to visit Britain was easily made when Peter heard that the British shipyard employed "art and science" practices that could be learned in a short time.


Uskoreniye is Michail Gorbachev's word for the necessary acceleration of political and economical workings in Soviet Union (Russia.) I think that Tsar Peter's actions to provoke actions of change in 17th century Russia was a predecessor of this though Peter's thinkings was more towards improvements which could be exploited as improvements in the army and navy, ie agrandizements of himself.

His actions to attract foreigners' is also a mirror of the actions in Sweden with regards to recruit smiths from Vallonien in Flandern and business men from the Netherlands.

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