Church scholar gives insights into papal names


‘BROTHERS AND SISTERS, GOOD EVENING’ These are the first words of Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as he greets an estimated crowd of 100,000 Catholic faithful in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican shortly after he was elected the 266th head of the Catholic Church. He is a Pope of many firsts: The first from the New World, the first Jesuit, the first to choose the name Francis and the first non-European since the Middle Ages. AFP

MANILA, Philippines—Why not Benedict XVII? John Paul III? Paul VII? Pius XIII? Or even Peter II?

Argentine Jorge Maria Cardinal Bergoglio has been rightfully called a pontiff of many “firsts,” but the groundbreaking nature of his unexpected rise to the papacy perhaps begins with his choice of papal name: Francis.

In his 2012 book “Pope Names,” church scholar Jimmy Akin gave a rather generous “one-percent” chance that the next supreme pontiff after Pope Benedict XVI would pick a “new unprecedented name.”

Akin, whose original work tracked and analyzed all the names used by the Catholic Church’s 265 popes (including the “anti-popes”) since the time of Peter, believed that the odds were “actually lower than 0.8 percent.”

That’s based on the fact that since AD 996, when the practice of taking papal names became common, only Albino Luciani did the “unprecedented” and took the name John Paul for what would be a short-lived,  33-day papacy in 1978. It was unexpected, Akin explained, because Luciani combined the names of two previous pontiffs, Pope John XXIII (who began the work for the Second Vatican Council) and Paul VI (under whose watch the council was completed).

“I don’t want to list the chances as zero, so I’m giving this a 1 percent chance, just to anticipate the unexpected,” Akin wrote on the chances that Benedict’s successor would choose an entirely different name.

And Bergoglio did just that, picking “Francis,” which was hitherto unused by pontiffs as an assumed name.

The new pope has explained his name choice. It’s after Francis of Assisi, founder of the mendicant Franciscan order, not Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to which  Bergoglio belongs.

It’s the names he could have picked—but did not—that probably invite more curiosity.

Like most of his predecessors, Bergoglio understandably steered clear of Peter, who is considered the first Pope, for that would naturally raise eyebrows. Based on Catholic belief, Jesus himself gave the name “Peter” (from the Aramaic “Kepha” meaning “rock”) to his top apostle Simon bar-Jona, the first pope’s original name.

Akin noted that one pope, who was baptized “Pietro,” had to change his name to John XIV in AD 983 “because he didn’t want to invite comparisons, as pope, to the original St. Peter.” Eleven more Peters assumed new names when they became pope.

“No pope wants to start off his reign with the massive, incredulous, ‘Who does this guy think he is? He just put his name above all his predecessors but the first!’ reaction that would follow,” Akin explained.

So why not Benedict XVII or John Paul III, Bergoglio’s two immediate predecessors?

Noting that half of the popes picked the names of one of the 10 previous pontiffs, Akin said a natural choice would be any name among Benedict XVII, John Paul III,  Paul VII, John XXIV, Pius XIII or Leo XIV.

Akin said Benedict XVII was unlikely unless the outgoing pontiff died in a “crisis situation” or the successor “feels particularly indebted to him.”

The author said John Paul III was more likely,  but warned that the new Pope might be “uncomfortable inviting comparisons” with someone like John Paul II, the first pope in centuries who might go down in history as “Pope St. John Paul the Great.”

And so Pope Francis it is.

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  • OleSapra aka ARGUS


    Hindi nagtutugma ang bilang ng mga historian hinggil sa tamang numero ng mga naging papa.

    Si Pope Benedict IX ay nahalal na papa no’ng 1032 ngunit siya’y tinanggal sa trono at pinalitan ni Sylvester III, isang antipope.

    Ibinalik sa trono si Pope Benedict IX no’ng 1045, subalit muling inalis sa papacy at iniluklok si Gregory VI nang naturan ding taon.

    Sa ikatlong pagkakataon ay nakabalik sa papacy si Benedict IX no’ng taon 1047 at nanungkulan pa ng isang taon kung kaila’y namatay na siya.

    Karaniwa’y tatlong beses na binibilang ang pangalan ni Pope Benedict IX sa talaan ng mga nagsilbing papa.

    Noong 1961 ay inalis ng Simbahan ang pangalan ni Pope Stephen II sa listahan ng mga naging papa.

    Si Stephen II ay nanungkulan noong 752 ng mga ilang araw lamang nang abutan ng kamatayan.

    Naging siyam na lang ang bilang ng dating sampung Stephen na omukupa sa papacy, at ang Stephen III pababa ay tumaas ang bilang ng isang baytang.

    Si Pope Innocent III (1198 – 1216) ay isa sa pinaka-makapangyarihang papa sa kasaysayan ng papacy porke nasupil niya at napasunod ang mga hari at emperador sa buong mundo sa batas ng Simbahan.

    Subalit naipagkakamali sa talaan ng ilang historian na siya ang Pope Innocent III na omukupa sa papacy no’ng taon 1179 na isang antipope.

    • kanoy

      At the same time, he kept a low profile ahead of the conclave, making few public appearances or statements. Giving the appearance of holding oneself out as a possible pope is one of the worst political mistakes ahead of a conclave, and he avoided it. He may have had good reason, given his prominent place in the last conclave, in 2005.
      The most authoritative accounts of that election suggest Cardinal Bergoglio garnered the second most votes to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the penultimate round. Then, at lunch, he was said to have thrown his votes to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was quickly elected Benedict XVI. Some accounts suggest he did not want to be pope; others, that he knew he did not have a chance of winning

  • kanoy

    Reacting with unusual swiftness, the Vatican on Friday rejected any suggestion that Pope Francis of Argentina was implicated in his country’s so-called Dirty War during the 1970s, tackling the issue just two days after the pontiff’s election.
    Vatican seemed intent on quickly putting to rest questions about the pope’s past, dismissing them as opportunistic defamations from anticlerical leftists..
    The charges derive from the pope’s days as the provincial, or leader, of Argentina’s Jesuits in the 1970s, a time of conflict in his country when the dictatorship tortured, killed or “disappeared” as many as 30,000 people.

    Many of the questions have emerged from articles and books published by journalists in Argentina, drawing from documents and statements by priests and lay workers who clashed with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became a bishop, cardinal, and then, on Wednesday, pope.

    Some human rights activists and authors have criticized his election as pope, while some leftists in Argentina have defended him, as have ordinary Argentines.
    One of the charges is that Francis was complicit in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests with antigovernment views whom he had dismissed from the order a week before.

    After the church for years denied any involvement with the dictatorship, Francis, then a cardinal, testified in 2010 that he had met secretly with Gen. Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, and Adm. Emilio Massera, the commander of the navy, to ask for the release of the priests.

    The next year, prosecutors called him to testify on the military junta’s systematic kidnapping of children, a subject he was also accused of knowing about but failing to prevent.
    It was not clear how much the cardinals who elected Francis delved into that past.

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