Just as the billows of white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City signal the election of a new pope, so does the name he chooses for himself signal his aspirations for his papacy. Pope Francis broke precedent by picking one that had never been used before, but which has deep meaning for him and projects a strong symbolic resonance to the outside world.
The new Pope revealed that the inspiration for his chosen name was St. Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni), the venerated patron saint of animals and the environment, known for his humility. He also stated that in the cardinals’ name discussions some of the papal appellations put forth were Adrian, and Clement, while others were hoping for Leo, who had been a beacon of social justice.
Popes have been picking their own regnal names since the year 533, when a pontiff with the pagan name of Mercurius switched to the more Biblical John II. So Jorge Mario Bergoglio had about eighty names he could have chosen from his predecessors, but still made the startling decision to break with tradition and create his own.
From those eighty names, here are a dozen of the most usable papal names for a baby today, some of which have already come back in style.
Francis—Will this increased exposure enhance the popularity of the new Pope’s name? In the past Francis has been favored by Irish and Italian Catholics (Francis Albert Sinatra, for one)—which this event may solidify and might also inspire others to reconsider this classic. Francis peaked in popularity in 1910, when it ranked 31st for boys; it’s now at Number 618. We’re more likely to see a bounce for other forms like the Italian Francesco, short form Frank and feminine Frances.
Adrian has been chosen by six previous pontiffs, the last of whom died in 1523. Adrian the IVth was the only English Pope in history. A Harry Potter name and that of Entourage star Adrian Grenier, the appealing Adrian has been in the Top 100 since 1989, and now ranks at Number 56.
Benedict—There have been sixteen Pope Benedicts, including one who had a great influence on European education and another who worked for peace during World War I. Benedict is now starting to be considered as an alternate, non-biblical, semi-Shakespearean route to nickname Ben, energized by rising star Benedict Cumberbatch .
Caius—There was just one, very early, Pope Caius. Much more usable than the more commonly chosen–there were twelve Popes with the name– Pius, Caius was used by Shakespeare several times, is a Twilight vampire, and boasts the newly stylish Latinate ‘us’ ending.
Clement—There have been fourteen Popes named Clement, and three—oops—antipopes. Clement has a pleasant, serene feel—think of the phrase ‘clement weather’–and the friendly, down-home nickname Clem. If Clementine has made a comeback, why not brother Clement?
Felix—Felix was the name of four Popes, as well as of 67 saints. His name, now ranking at Number 311, is a particular Nameberry fave, liked for its solid history, its energy, felicitous meaning, many literary references and x-factor ending. Elizabeth Banks and Hugh Grant have both chose it for their sons.
Lando—The unusually-named tenth century Pope Lando, whose papacy lasted only six months, was one of the few who kept his own name. Lando can also be seen as a shortened, more lively Landon or a nickname for Orlando.
Leo—There have been thirteen Pope Leos, including the late nineteenth century Leo who wrote extensively on social justice issues and tried to bring the church into the modern world. Leo is the name the oft-quoted Irish gambling site PaddyPower.com was giving the greatest odds on for the new Pope—47%– and the one many Berries probably were rooting for too.
Linus—Linus is considered to be the second pope after Saint Peter. In the modern world, his name has been long neglected, going back way before the attachment to the Snoopy security blanket. But Linus has a rich history in Greek myth and some distinguished namesakes, and so could become part of the ancient Greek name revival. It’s currently a Top 50 name in Sweden.
Lucius is the name taken by three early Popes. Appearing in the Bible, in Shakespeare’s plays, and in Harry Potter, Lucius has enough credits to propel it into position to join the other more popular Lu–names: Lucy, Luke, Lucas, Lucia, Luca et al.
Marcellus—The second of the two Pope Marcelluses was the last pontiff to more or less keep his own name—he was born Marcello, then Latinized it. Marcellus has the august image of all ancient Roman names: he could just be the next Maximus.
Urban—Of the eight popes named Urban, best remembered is the eleventh century Urban II, who brought many reforms to the Church. Not unusual in the early twentieth century, Urban has all but disappeared; we think it has a lot of promise as a fresh-sounding, citified n-ending name.
Would you use any of these names?