Popes, Names of

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It is an old custom, but not a regulation, that upon election every pope assumes a new name. The new name is practically always one already used by a predecessor. The last pope to assume an "original" name was Lando (913914). The 144 popes from then until 1978 used only 32 names. Those of Clement, John, Benedict, Gregory, Innocent, and Pius have each been adopted more than ten times. In 1978 Albino Luciani combined the names of his two immediate predecessors, becoming Pope John Paul I.

Origins of the Change of Name . This custom originated shortly before 1000. Examples from earlier times of John II (533535), previously Mercurius, and John XII (955964), previously Octavianus, both pagan names, probably can be explained by their double names. In the first clear case of a change of name, Peter, bishop of Pavia, when elected to the papacy (983), exchanged his baptismal name for that of John (XIV). He did so doubtless out of reverence for the first pope, St. Peter: quia Petrus antea extiterat (Epitaph). Boniface VII and John XV, his immediate successors, kept their former names.

Then followed the first transalpine pontiffs, Bruno of Carinthia (996) and Gerbert of Aurillac (999). The precedent of the change of name by John XIV encouraged them to change their "barbarous" sounding names to the genuinely Roman ones: Gregory (V) and Sylvester (II). After John XVII and John XVIII, another Peter, bishop of Albano, ascended the throne of Peter (1009) and called himself Sergius (IV). Since that time the practice of changing one's name has persisted to this day, except for two Renaissance pontiffs, Adrian VI and Marcellus II, who retained their baptismal names.

Motives . If at first pagan origin, or "barbarous" sound, or reverence for St. Peter induced several popes to drop their former names, people later interpreted this alteration as a determination to place the individual completely in the service of the new office. Moreover, the examples of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul were cited (e.g., Bernard of Clairvaux, Ep. 238, c. 1; Peter Lombard, Collect. in Ep. ad Rom., c. 1). Persons changed their names upon entering religious orders, a custom that established itself in the 6th century. In the choice of the new papal name various, often complicated, motives are involved, such as veneration for a predecessor of the same name, accidental influence of date and locale, and familiarity with the works and ideas of earlier popes. A special attitude is noticeable during the century beginning with Clement II (104647), when all the popes wanted to circumvent the "dark" age of the papacy and reverted to the names of popes of the first centuries. As a result 13 of the 18 popes were the "second" of their name. With Eugene III (114553) began a long line of popes with the ordinal "III." Only after 1276 were several names, such as John, taken once more from the period 867 to 1046.

The Ordinal Number The oldest example of an ordinal number added to a pope's name is most probably that of Gregory III (731741). Two centuries older is the custom of calling the second of two popes with the same name junior, and the third, if there were three, secundus junior. Appending the actual ordinal number became common only in the 10th century. Since Leo IX (104954) the ordinal number has been on the lead seal. The ordinal number, however, is omitted even today in the declaration of the papal name (intitulatio ) at the beginning of every papal document sealed with lead, and in the solemn papal signature: Ego N. Catholicae Ecclesiae episcopus.

Bibliography: a. knÖpfler, "Die Namensänderung der Päpste," Compte rendu du IVe Congrès scientifique international des catholiques, 10 v. in 4 (Fribourg 1898) 3:158167. r. l. poole, "The Names and Numbers of Medieval Popes," English Historical Review 32 (1917) 465478. p. rabikauskas, "Papstname und Ordnungszahl," Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 51 (1956) 115. f. krÖmer, "Über die Anfänge und Beweggründe der Papstnamenänderungen im Mittelalter," ibid. 148188 with bibliog.

[p. rabikauskas]