For Pope-to-Be, Choice of Name Means Plenty

Pius Seen as Slap at Jews, Leo Would Be Revolutionary

Lion of Rome: Pope Leo XIII was a progressive pontiff during the turn of the 20th century. A new pope might choose that name to signify a liberal bent.
getty images
Lion of Rome: Pope Leo XIII was a progressive pontiff during the turn of the 20th century. A new pope might choose that name to signify a liberal bent.

By Reuters

Published March 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Defenders say Pius XII did as much as he could to defend Jews against the Holocaust, so taking the name could identify the new pope as one of a conservative group that has pushed for him to be made a saint. Jewish groups have urged the Vatican not to canonise him, at least until wartime records are clearer.

After his election in 2005, German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he chose the name Benedict to honour Saint Benedict of Nursia, “whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe”, and Pope Benedict XV who sought reconciliation during World War One.

JOHN PAUL THE LESS?

The Latin maxim “nomen est omen” - a name is a sign - is as valid today for popes as it was for ancient Romans whose emperors took new names or titles when they assumed power.

Key figures in the Bible also changed their names, including Saint Peter the first pope and Saint Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, so there is a Christian precedent as well.

The first pope known to have changed his name was John II in 533. He was called Mercury by his family but thought the Christian pontiff should not have the name of a pagan Roman god.

This became more common after an 18-year-old with another pagan name, Octavian, was chosen in a rigged election in 955 and decided to take the name John XII. A man named Peter opted for Sergius IV in 1009, avoiding comparison with the first pope.

Cardinal Angelo Roncalli reportedly spent the evening before his election as John XXIII in 1958 thumbing through a list of popes to check what earlier Johns had done. He chose the name because his father had it and it recalled the Apostle John.

When Albino Luciani was elected in 1978, he took the first double name in papal history, John Paul I, to show he wanted to combine John XXIII’s reforms with the more traditional stand of his immediate predecessor, Paul VI (1963-1978).

When John Paul I died 33 days later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland honoured him by taking the papal name John Paul II.

It is unlikely another pope will call himself John Paul any time soon. If Wojtyla goes down in history as John Paul the Great, as his supporters call him, a successor taking his name could risk being known as John Paul the Less.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.