ACCORDING to a probably apocryphal story making the rounds almost two years ago, some residents of the small central Texas city of San Marcos were talking about renaming their town San Aquino in the aftermath of the Filipino ``People Power'' movement that deposed President Ferdinand Marcos and installed President Corazon Aquino. Two years later, no doubt much to the relief of the United States Postal Service, San Marcos is still San Marcos.
Leonid Brezhnev, the late Soviet general secretary, recently met with a different fate. Motivated by current General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's press for glasnost - which recognizes, to some degree, errors committed by previous Soviet leaders - authorities in that nation removed Brezhnev's name from a large city. The city, about 500 miles east of Moscow, will once again be known by its former name, Naberezhnye Chelny (which means Dugout Canoe on the Shore).
Mr. Gorbachev is not the first Russian leader to remove a predecessor's name from a city. After the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev's subsequent denunciation of the late dictator in 1956, Stalin's name was removed from a city in the Volga Basin. Stalingrad, the site of one of World War II's most protracted and costliest battles (partly because Adolf Hitler felt compelled to capture the city named for his archnemesis), became Volgograd.
Czar Peter I, better known as Peter the Great, lost ``his'' city in 1924. After the death of Lenin, his successors gave the name Leningrad to the country's former imperial capital; Petrograd was no more.
Today's Soviet ``namesmanship'' resembles a game of musical chairs, reflecting who is ``in'' and who is ``out'' in the current official Soviet pantheon of heroes. Gorbachev seems to be increasing the game's tempo.
Brezhnev is, apparently, on the way out - though not entirely, at least not yet. Stalin probably is not on the way back in, but Nikolai Bukharin, the theoretician of the Bolshevik Revolution, who was executed as a spy by Stalin in 1938, may be.
Khrushchev, deposed in 1964, currently appears to be in the netherworld between being in and out, but Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Red Army, who was kicked out of the Soviet Union in 1929 and assassinated in Mexico in 1940, probably on Stalin's orders, is still out.
As frustrating as all this may eventually prove for Soviet mail carriers, it must be equally confusing for the Russians and others in Eastern Europe who wish to make sense of their nations' histories.
A Polish example illustrates the limits of glasnost as it applies to history. Last fall, noting the 48th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and subsequent dismemberment of Poland by Germany and the USSR, the Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski wrote an article for Kommunist, the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee's journal.
``The political-military steps of the Soviet government which originated at this time were accompanied by anti-Leninist phraseology contradictory to Poland's right to independence,'' General Jaruzelski wrote. As a result of the Russo-German invasion, ``thousands of Poles underwent repressions and deportations.''
Jaruzelski's article, however, omitted all mention of the infamous Katyn Forest massacre, where more than 4,000 anti-communist Polish military officers were executed, probably at Stalin's behest, by the NKVD, the forerunner of today's KGB. The Soviets later tried to pin the blame on their erstwhile Nazi allies.
It would seem that recalling this painful memory didn't mesh too neatly with glasnost's current standards for or limits on truth in history.
De-Stalinization came and went in the late 1950s without significantly or permanently expanding the limits on independent Soviet historical study and writing not dictated by party dogma. Will the glasnost of three decades later yield different long-term results?
Joe Patrick Bean is assistant professor of history at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin, Texas.