Even before he utters his first words in public, the new pope who emerges from the conclave this week will send Roman Catholics around the world a message encoded in the name he chooses.
It may not be one they immediately understand. Picking an unlikely one from the distant papal past - for example, Hilarus or Zephyrinus - would send Catholics scurrying to their history books to see what it could mean.
But one harking back to modern popes - Benedict or John Paul or John - would signal right away the new leader of 1.2 billion faithful wants continuity with the papacy his name refers to.
One name making the rounds in Rome before the 115 cardinal electors filed into the Sistine Chapel for their conclave on Tuesday was Francis, a name Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley might take if he emerges as the new pontiff.
O’Malley is a Franciscan friar who prefers the brown habit and white rope belt of his Capuchin order to his red cardinal’s finery. No pope has ever taken the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th century reformer who lived in poverty and told followers: “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words.”
PROGRESSIVES AND CONSERVATIVES
Leo - Latin for “lion” - tops a list of bets placed with Paddy Power, a Dublin bookmaker putting odds on the next pope, his name and age.
The name has a progressive ring because the last to choose it, Leo XIII, helped adapt the Church to modern thinking about the industrial age during his papacy from 1878 to 1903.
His encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (Of New Things) was the first on social justice and defended the rights of workers. It argued that both communism and capitalism were flawed and that the state must work for the common good of all its citizens.