MOSCOW -- The city of Izhevsk, capital of the autonomous republic of Udmurtia, has its name back, 2 1/2 years after orders went out from Moscow to call the place Ustinov in honor of the late defense minister Dmitri Ustinov.

Apparently, a majority of the 500,000 people living in Izhevsk never cottoned to "Ustinov" and some waged a campaign to restore their city's original identity. Another order came from the Communist Party Central Committee, and the Soviet government has done just that.

The business of name-changing, in vogue in the Soviet Union since the revolution, is going through another phase, as local inhabitants, writers and others cry out for historical accuracy.

The abrupt changing of the name of Izhevsk, capital of one of the 16 autonomous republics within the giant Russian republic, had become a rallying point for efforts to stop random renaming.

Sergei Zalygin, editor of the influential journal Novy Mir, took up the cause of Izhevsk's natives a year ago in an article in which he decried heedless rejection of the past.

"A person goes to sleep in the town of Izhevsk . . . and wakes up in Ustinov, and we make believe nothing has happened," Zalygin wrote in Literaturnaya Gazeta.

"No one can deny that Dmitri Fedorovich Ustinov was an outstanding statesman, but why on earth should we make his name collide with history? I am sure if Ustinov had been asked if he wanted this contradiction he would only have had one answer: 'This should not be done.' "

In removing Ustinov's name from the city's signposts, Moscow authorities decreed that Izhevsk's new housing development and the production organization Izhmash will be known henceforth as Ustinov.

The Soviet news agency Tass and Soviet television, in announcing the news, said nothing about the cost and the headache of changing postal addresses, signposts, maps, letterheads and other things affected by a city's name.

Ustinov, who died in December 1984, had been Soviet defense minister since 1976, and for many years had been an influential member of the Soviet leadership.

Currently, the Soviet military is undergoing a major upheaval following the national embarrassment over the landing of a light airplane from West Germany in Red Square May 28.

The first move to revert to old place names came last year when the Communist Party leader in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin, ordered changes in the names of several Moscow streets. In many cases, residents did not notice the difference, since they had never stopped calling the streets by their old names.

If the trend continues, additional cities -- Andropov and Brezhnev among them -- could go through identity crises. Places named for Joseph Stalin were renamed long ago. There have been efforts, though, to turn Volgograd back into Stalingrad.

The renaming of Izhevsk attracted special attention, because Dmitri Ustinov had no apparent link to the city and because it was the capital of an autonomous republic that in 1983 celebrated the 425th anniversary of its affiliation with Russia. Udmurtia, one-third of whose 1.5 million people are Udmuts, was once named Votskaya, but got back its present name in 1932.