When it came to picking the pope in the first 600 years, those chosen would go by their baptismal name. It was in the 10th century when they started going by different names.
“Every single pope since the 16th century has chosen a name which would reflect their own charism, their own continuity with past popes perhaps,” says Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University, who adds the choices for names usually coincide with names of saints or religious missionaries.
John Paul II combined the names of two Evangelists.
“He traveled the world preaching the gospel, which puts together John and Paul very well,” Pecknold said. “He chose those names obviously intending this was going to be his special charism as bringing the gospel through all these extensive global missionary journeys.”
Knowing he wouldn’t be pope for long, Benedict XVI may have followed Benedict XV, who also wasn’t pope for long. But there is more to the name, Pecknold said.
Benedict of Nursia was a saint known for his work with the gospel.
“What is at the heart of the gospel and Benedict has really focused on that,” Pecknold said. “He has focused on love. He’s focused on truth.”
“I think it is part of the reason he chose the name Benedict,” he added.
There’s no way of knowing what name the new pope will take, but there’s plenty of speculation based off their personality.
“One that is loving and caring, one who is generous and one who is able to walk with the people,” said Katrina Oteyza, a theology student.
Dawn Eden, another theology student, has some preferences on a name.
“Pius X and Pius XII in particular were really promoting reverend liturgy so I think those would be priority of any pope taking that name."
Some cardinals won’t admit it, but Pecknold argues they have pondered the question.
“It’s going to be a name which reflects their own sense of mission,” he said.
For more information on what possible names could be picked, watch the video below: