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Why do Popes change their name?

2013-03-13

The election of each name is a personal decision that can take into account several factors. One of them is affection. It is common for an elected Pope to take the name of a recent predecessor. John Paul I decided to combine the names of John XXIII and Paul VI. Juan Paul II followed by honoring his predecessor.

Benedict XVI referenced in his name Benedict XV, the Pope that had to mediate during World War I.

If the new Pope chooses to follow their example, he could very well choose the name Benedict XVII. It would signal the continuity of the past pontificate. Or with John Paul II, if his inspiration is the intrepid and pastoral spirit of the Polish Pope. He could also choose John XXIV or Paul VII, remembering the Popes of the Second  Vatican Council, which celebrates this year the 50 anniversary of its inauguration.

There are other great Popes that have also generated a great following among successors, like Leo. Leo XIV would be the name of the new Pope if he chooses to honor Leo XIII, the Pope that initiated the Church's social doctrine in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.

Gregory XVII could be the name for a Pope that wants to reform the structure of the Church to make it more efficient. St. Gregory the Great and Saint Gregory VII could serve as references.

However, there is also the chance the new Pope could break new ground and choose a new name. John Paul I did so after nearly 1,000 years. The last original name introduced by a Pope was Lando I in the year 913.

If the new Pope wanted to introduce a new name, he could very well opt for a name with a strong Christian tradition that has not been used before. Among the possibilities are Louis, Francis, Xavier, Ignatius or Thomas. They all evoke saints and would like be welcomed by Catholics.


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