We all know now that Stalin's birth name was Jughashvili (Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili). Lenin was born Ulyanov, Trotsky was Lev Davidovich Bronstein, Kamenev was Leo Rosenfeld, etc.

Searching through literature and internet (both international and Russian) resources, you could find many explanations as to why the Bolsheviks chose new names for themselves, how Stalin chose to be Stalin and Koba before that, etc.

However, I could not find information on whether the average Soviet citizen (let's say a factory worker or kolkhoz farmer) knew or could have known the birth name of Stalin or other Soviet leaders, even those who were disgraced like Trotsky. Note that Soviet press and other media constantly praised Stalin and maligned Trotsky after his exile in 1929. But I could not find any information that they ever used the birth names of either of them. And if not the press, did at least Soviet encyclopedias (available to a much smaller circle of academics) mention these details? Were there even word-of-mouth rumors about the origins and birth names of the leaders?

EDIT : To clarify matters further, I will give one simple example. After the capture of Yakov Dzhugashvili, Germans issued propaganda leaflets calling him elder Stalin's son. Could average Soviet soldier (poor peasant or factory worker) make a connection between Dzhugashvili and Stalin, which is of course necessary for propaganda to work ?

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    Downvoted because it makes an incorrect assumption about what is real. Stalin's real name was Stalin, during the period he was in power, even though he may have called by a different name in his youth.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 22, 2021 at 20:17
  • No, it is simple fact. A person's real name is what other people call them. (Leaving out cultures where people have secret "real" names in addition to their public names.)
    – jamesqf
    Jan 23, 2021 at 2:08
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    @jamesqf You are constructing your own rules and your own culture that has nothing to do with Russian (Soviet) culture where person's last name carry significant weight, as ii reveals its origins.
    – rs.29
    Jan 23, 2021 at 8:12
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    @jamesqf To add this, despite all propaganda of unity, unofficially nationality and ethnicity was important in that part of the world (and still is) . It could affect what would average Joe (Ivan) think about certain person . Therefore, knowing real birth names of Soviet leaders would have effect.
    – rs.29
    Jan 23, 2021 at 8:36
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    I agree with jamesqf that "real name" is not the best term to use in this case, but it is clear what the OP is asking about, which is whether people were aware of these politicians' birth names. An equivalent question in the US context would be whether Americans in the 90's knew that Bill Clinton had been given the last name Blythe at birth. The answer (I was there) was that people knew, but didn't care.
    – Robert Columbia
    Jan 27 at 2:59

1 Answer 1


Of course it was widely known. In Lenin's case, in 1924 they even renamed his native city Ulyanovsk. For instance, the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks): Short Course, which was published since 1938 and until Stalin's death in millions of copies, for instance, contains a passage referring to Lenin as "Ulyanov."

As for Stalin, his "Collected works" (published in 1946, again in millions of copies) contains a brief bio of the author, which starts with:

9 (21) декабря. В г. Гори (Грузия) родился Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили (Сталин).

December 9 (21). Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Stalin) was born in Gori (Georgia).

Edit. Regarding the question in the edit (about Stalin's son): I think it is impossible to tell. (Who would or could collect this type of data? Only NKVD, but they had their hands full with other, more pressing, issues. Even anecdotal references are unlikely since peasants do not write memoirs.) My best guess is that this really did not matter: An average Soviet peasant (and USSR was still primarily a peasant country at the time) could not care less about Stalin's son. (If they hated Stalin, and many did, they would have hated his son as well.) The main initial defining factors (in the degree of support for Nazi occupiers and willingness for soldiers to surrender) would have been how much he/she hated the collectivization plus the tactical situation on the ground. For that, there are some serious historic studies and I could find references (do not remember off the top of my head), maybe it was already discussed at HSE. In the later stages, there were other defining factors, e.g. Nazi atrocities on the occupied territories.

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    Remains of course the question how many people would have taken notice of such things. Especially in rural areas in the USSR pre-WW2 most people would have had very limited access to books (if they were even litterate) and radio, with most news coming through weekly or less frequent films shown at the local cinema or movie house (the same was true for rural areas elsewhere, not just the USSR, btw).
    – jwenting
    Jan 22, 2021 at 11:27
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    The question is more or less whether their real names were a secret. The answer is an emphatic "No". Anyone who wanted to know could have known. Trotzki and also Sralin became a.bit of non-persons at some point and so the info about their real names would be less in-your-face than in the case of Lenin/Ulyanov.
    – Jan
    Jan 22, 2021 at 15:11
  • @jwenting: Yes, what I had in mind are people with HS education. As for the country side, they (mostly) did not have movies (before WWII), their news would come in for of "polit-information." What they knew (about anything) is hard to tell. It reminds me of a Soviet joke about a student taking a history exam and asked about various Soviet leaders... "What do you want from me: You have your friends, I have mine!" Jan 22, 2021 at 15:14
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    Answer is good and gets +1 . It still doesn't clear the question of average worker or farmer, but at least it shows it was not a state secret and well-educated probably did know.
    – rs.29
    Jan 22, 2021 at 22:57
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    @rs.29: If you are expecting some kind of statistical data, then it's hopeless. All I can tell you is that both Lenin (until 1991) and Stalin (until 1953) were objects of intense official propaganda directed at the entire Soviet population starting at the very early age (kindergarden). If you read Russian I will add links to examples of such propaganda materials (re: Lenin) and you will have no doubts after reading this staff that average Soviet citizen knew who Ulyanov was. I prefer not to post such agit-prop on HSE otherwise, as it is nauseating. Jan 22, 2021 at 23:27

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