Fact Sheet: Papal Names
Pope Benedict XVI -- formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- chose one of a number of papal names of holy origin. Benedict comes from the Latin for "blessing."
Some experts believe the name the pope chooses offers a clue into the spirit of the new papacy.
The last pope to choose the name -- Benedict XV -- served during World War I and was credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists. He dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.
And there's another Pope Benedict who was seen as a peacemaker. Pope Benedict XI served in the 14th century as political issues were building tension in the church.
One other aspect of the name may be appealing to the new Pope Benedict. He is known as a scholar, just like Pope Benedict XIV and Pope Benedict XI before him.
The new pope is free to pick from any of his 264 predecessors, use his own first name or come up with something new.
Choosing A New Name
A newly-elected pope must immediately choose a name after accepting the papacy.
This happens while cardinals are still secretly meeting in conclave.
New popes usually pick the name of a saint or former pope they admire.
Many see great significance in the name, indicating a pope's beliefs and direction.
The last completely new papal name was "Lando". Pope Lando served 913-914.
John Paul II's Name
Pope John Paul II chose his name to honor his predecessor, John Paul I.
John Paul I died just 33 days after being elected pope.
John Paul I was honoring two former popes: John XXIII (1958-63) and Paul VI (1963-78). Those popes opened and closed the Second Vatican Council.
The name "John Paul I" made history as the first time a pope took two names.
Also, no one had ever added "the first" or "I" to a new pope name. But "John Paul I" put the "I" on the end of the name as he took office.
How Did Tradition Start?
The tradition dates to 553 AD.
The new pope then changed his name from Mercurius to John, becoming Pope John II.
He did that as his given name, Mercurius, was derived from the name of the Roman god Mercury.
Mercurius felt the successor to St. Peter shouldn't have a pagan name. So he chose John, to honor a former pope.
Most Popular Pope Names
John. There have been 23 Pope Johns. The latest (John XXIII) died in 1963.
Gregory. There have been 16. The last served 1831-1846.
Benedict. There have been 16, including the current pope.
Clement. There have been 14. The most recent served 1769-1774.
Innocent. The church has had 13 popes with that name. The last served 1721-24.
Leo. There have been 13.
Other Pope Names
Peter. The first pope. There has been only one.
Pius. Relatively popular lately. Three of eight popes in the 20th century were named Pius. Pius XII died in 1958. It's an old name; Pius I served 140-155.
Urban. There have been eight, with the latest (Urban VIII) serving 1623-1644.
Honorius. There were two. Honorius II served 1124-1130.
Sisinnius. Just one. He served in 708.
St. Hilarius. He served as pope 461-468.