MOSCOW, JAN. 6 -- Five years ago, after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died, his political heirs renamed a city on the Volga River, a Moscow district and a square in Leningrad in his honor.

Today, in a dramatic example of "de-Brezhnevization," the country's leadership reversed the christening process, turning the city of Brezhnev back into Naberzhniye Chelny, the Brezhnev district back to Cheryomushky and the square to Krasnogvardeiskaya.

The Soviet news agency Tass said the decision, made by top Communist Party and government bodies, was in response to appeals by local residents. The Soviet press last summer reported that residents of Brezhnev in the Tatar republic had petitioned the party Central Committee, asking to be dissociated from the 18-year rule of Brezhnev.

At first criticized euphemistically as the "period of stagnation," the Brezhnev leadership has come under increasingly direct attack. In published debates, historians speak with open contempt about "Brezhnevski" stagnation. Articles, documentary films and plays have mocked the once-praised leader for his style of speech, his mania for medals and his passive tolerance of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power.

In the three years since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, all but a few of the old Brezhnev guard in the Politburo have been retired. Members of the older generation are still being cleaned out of top party ranks as the new leader seeks to put his own mark on personnel and policy.

By stripping the name of Brezhnev from key locations, the Central Committee and the presidium of the Supreme Soviet -- the national legislature -- took a more formal step of breaking with the Brezhnev past.

However, Tass did not say whether all places, factories, ships and academies named after Brezhnev would be renamed -- a distinction from the overnight disappearance of dictator Joseph Stalin's name from farms, factories and public squares during the Khrushchev era.

A few years ago, a movement to restore old prerevolutionary names to Moscow streets was in vogue. Several key streets were renamed, but recent articles have pointed up the cost of switching over street signs, postal addresses and maps and the renaming process appears to have slowed down.

Since the 1917 revolution, the Soviet Union has altered place names liberally, in some cases changing them several times as a succession of historical figures passed into disfavor.

In the last two years, writers and historians have pressed for greater historical accuracy, calling, for instance, for the city of Kalinin to be restored to its ancient Russian name of Tver.

But in the case of Brezhnev place names, politics seems to have played a greater role than nostalgia. According to press accounts, citizens of the city of Brezhnev, site of a major truck plant, and residents of Brezhnev district in Moscow and Brezhnev square in Leningrad signed petitions asking for the Brezhnev stigma to be lifted from their areas.