Puneet Varma (Editor)

Papal name

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Papal name

A papal name is the regnal name taken by a pope. Both the head of the Catholic Church, usually known as the Pope, and the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (Coptic Pope) choose papal names. As of 2016 Francis is the Catholic Pope, and Tawadros II or Theodoros II is the Coptic Pope. This article discusses and lists the names of Catholic Popes; another article has a list of Coptic Orthodox Popes of Alexandria.


While popes in the early centuries retained their birth names after their accession to the papacy, later on popes began to adopt a new name upon their accession. This first started in the sixth century and became customary in the 10th century. Since 1555, every pope has taken a papal name.

It is customary when referring to popes to translate the regnal name into local languages. Thus, for example, Papa Franciscus (Latin, the official language of the Holy See), is Papa Francesco in Italian (the language of the Vatican), Papa Francisco in his native Spanish, and Pope Francis in English.


The official style of the Catholic Pope in English is His Holiness Pope [papal name]. Holy Father is another honorific often used for popes.

The full title, rarely used, of the Catholic Pope in English is:

His Holiness [papal name], Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God.


The official title of the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle. The Successor of St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Apostle and Martyr, on the Holy Apostolic Throne of the Great City of Alexandria.

He is considered to be

  • Father of Fathers.
  • Shepherd of Shepherds.
  • Hierarch of all Hierarchs
  • Honorary titles attributed to the Hierarch of the Alexandrine Throne are

  • The Pillar and Defender of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and of the Orthodox Faith.
  • The Dean of the Great Catechetical School of Theology of Alexandria.
  • The Ecumenical (Universal) Judge (Arbitrator) of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic (Universal) Church.
  • The Thirteenth among the Holy Apostles.
  • History

    During the first centuries of the church, the bishops of Rome continued to use their baptismal names after their elections. The custom of choosing a new name began in AD 533: Mercurius deemed it inappropriate for a pope to be named after the pagan Roman god Mercury, and adopted the name John II in honor of his predecessor John I, who was venerated as a martyr. In the 10th century clerics from beyond the Alps, especially Germany and France, acceded to the papacy and replaced their foreign-sounding names with more traditional ones.

    The last pope to use his baptismal name was Marcellus II in 1555, a choice that was even then quite exceptional. Names are freely chosen by popes, and not based on any system. Names of immediate or distant predecessors, mentors, saints, or even family members—as was the case with John XXIII—have been adopted.

    In 1978 Cardinal Albino Luciani became the first pope to take a double name, John Paul I, to honour his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI; he had been elevated to bishop by John XXIII, then to Patriarch of Venice and the College of Cardinals by Paul VI. John Paul I was also the first pope in almost 1,100 years since Lando in 913 to adopt a papal name that had not previously been used. After John Paul I's sudden death a month later, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected and, wishing to continue his predecessor's work, became the second Pope to take a double name as John Paul II. In 2013, a new name was introduced into the lineage: on being elected Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio selected the name Francis to emphasize the spirit of humility espoused by Saint Francis of Assisi.


    Often the new pontiff's choice of name upon being elected to the papacy is seen as a signal to the world of who the new pope will emulate, what policies he will seek to enact, or even the length of his reign. Such was the case with Benedict XVI – it was speculated that he chose the name because he wished to emulate Benedict XV, and to also call attention to the fact that at 7.5 years, Benedict XV's reign was relatively short. Benedict XVI's own reign, which ended with his resignation on 28 February 2013, also lasted less than 8 years (he was already 78 when elected).

    Saint Peter was the first Pope; no Pope of Rome has chosen the name Peter II, although there is no prohibition against doing so. Since the 1970s some antipopes, with only a minuscule following, took the name Pope Peter II.

    Probably because of the controversial fifteenth-century antipope known as Pope John XXIII, this name was avoided for over 500 years until the election in 1958 of Pope (of Rome) John XXIII. Immediately after John XXIII's election as pope in 1958, it was not known if he would be John XXIII or XXIV; he decided that he would be known as John XXIII. The number used by an antipope is ignored if possible, but this is not possible if, by the time someone is reckoned as antipope, the name has since been used by one or more legitimate popes (e.g. Benedict X was later reckoned as antipope).

    Current practice

    Immediately after a new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked in Latin "By what name shall you be called?"† The new pope chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior Cardinal Deacon, or Cardinal Protodeacon, then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter's to proclaim the new pope by his birth name, and announce his papal name:

    †Unless impeded, the Dean of the College of Cardinals asks the newly elected pope if he accepts his election and what name he will use. In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Dean, was himself elected pope, so these questions were asked by the subdean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.


    Papal name Wikipedia