Papal Baby Names: Possibilities beyond Pius and Innocent

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.

FrancisWill 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?

FelixFelix 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.

LandoThe 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.

LinusLinus 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 Lunames: 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?

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21 Responses to “Papal Baby Names: Possibilities beyond Pius and Innocent”

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stairwaytoastar Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 6:35 am

What about Fabian? I love it and think that it’s perfect for a modern baby! And what about Gregory? You barely ever hear it anymore but why not??

dancingwithdad Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 6:36 am

I’ve never actually heard the phrase “clement weather” only “inclement weather”.

Leo and Felix would be my favorite. Caius reminds of Caiaphas, a name from the Bible I have always liked but would never actually use (along with Gamaliel).

Let_it_grow Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 8:16 am

I really like Urban – I was pushing it with my husband for a while, but he never liked it. We also live in the country , so that might be weird.

Mischa Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 10:04 am

Ah, I love Pope and saint names. The only one I’m not crazy about on this list is Lando (Orlando would be better). I love Leo, Felix, Benedict, Adrian and Clement.

Thanks for posting on the day of the new pope’s installation!

EmilyVA Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 10:25 am

I am a Harry Potter fan to point that I have Hermione, Ginevra, and Hedwig on my top girl’s names, but I am sick and tired of being told about all these little known not very important characters that I have completely forgotten but somehow count as “Harry Potter” names. I have no idea who Adrian is and why this is revelant to Adrian. There are some many other characters named Adrian from other places. For example one famous Adrian was Adrian Monk from the tv show Monk. Another is the main character of Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.
In my opinion if you really wanted to name your kid after a Harry Potter character you would pick Harry or Ronald or Hermione or Ginevra or Lily or James or Sirius or Remus or Cedric or Seamus or Cho or Dean etc. See I can name obsecure characters too! But quit dragging every obsecure character into the limelight to sell people “Harry Potter” names.

linda Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 10:31 am

Good point, EmilyVA–we’ll keep that in mind.

southern.maple Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 11:43 am

I agree with EmilyVA about the Harry Potter names. Just because a name is used in Harry Potter does not make it a “Harry Potter name.” That label should be reserved for the names of prominent characters or very rare names that Ms. Rowling brought into the spotlight, not characters who are mentioned once or twice over the course of seven books.

All that said, I really like Benedict, Clement, and Linus. I love Benedict Cumberbatch, and I probably never would have given the name a second thought if it weren’t for him. Benedict and Clement both have lovely meanings. I just think Linus is cool, and I like the colonial, antique feel it has.

southern.maple Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 11:45 am

Oh! And am I the only person who remembered Lando Calrissian from Star Wars?

tori101 Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I love…
Clement, Francis, Caius, Leo, Felix, Marcellus (love nn Mars) I think these a great choices!!

encore Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I like Adrian and Leo!

MeleriHaf Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

southern.maple, you are not the only one who thought of Lando from Star Wars. I had no idea it was a real name, let alone a papal name. That factoid made my day!

jenjenbarnes Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Frances is such a wonderful girl name! After reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” it became one of my top fav names.

florie33 Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I love the new Pope’s name Francis. There are many Francis,Frances, Frank, and Francine s in my family. I also love several other Pope’s names especially John Paul, Clement, and Leo. Giovanni and Jorge are also superb names!

Poppy528 Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 8:58 pm

I like Benedict the best. Eggs Benedict. mmhmmmm

Lena Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 9:28 pm

What about Pope Hilarius? Hehe

ssister Says:

March 19th, 2013 at 10:09 pm

I’m so overjoyed with the new Pope’s name! Pope Francis I will be an inspiration and I think we’ll see a lot more little France’s in the years to come. I also love the names Clement, Adrian & Leo. Looking forward to the use of Francis, Frances, Francesca, Francine, Frank and more!

joye Says:

March 20th, 2013 at 1:08 am

There have been eight popes named Urban, not four. I was rooting for Urban as the next name.

Benedict, Felix, Leo, and Urban are on our list.

maggiemary Says:

March 20th, 2013 at 7:07 am

I’d say a more well-known Adrian from literature is Adrian Mole! As for the Pope names, I adore Benedict, Clement, Leo and Lucius.

arreisenlaluz9 Says:

March 20th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I wholeheartedly disagree with emilyVA. I don’t think you’re trying to “sell” names by attributing them to the Potter novels. In my opinion, J.K. Rowling is an exemplary namer and I like to be reminded of even the very minor character’s names. It seems to me that if J.K. Rowling picked it, its worth giving a second glance. Maybe emily is right in that fans are more likely to pick a main character name if they are trying to pay homage to the series, but that is not a rule. Picking a name like Adrian may be your own subtle way of passing your love and respect for Rowling and Harry on to your child.

iwillpraise Says:

August 1st, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I prefer Ambrose to Adrian (thinking USA Network’s Monk brothers :),
but I certainly would choose Marcellus. I love love love this due to my love of Richard Burton’s lead role in the movie The Robe. <3

Popes and baby naming | Sancta Nomina Says:

July 4th, 2014 at 8:12 pm

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