A new Roman Catholic pope selects his own name.
Based on previous popes, here is a list of all 81 possible names for Francis’s
successor furnished with the proper available Roman numeral. From the top I went
backwards in time, which should also very roughly parallel the descending probability
of a particular name being chosen.
Threatened to excommunicate tobacco users, reigned only 13 days (1590)
Even some names toward the top of this list can probably be ruled out. For
example, Pius XIII will likely remain vacant for now because of the cloud over
Pius XII who many people argue could have rescued far more Jews during World War
II than he did (though there are very strong contrary views, e.g., here).
On a more sanguine note it’s perhaps equally unlikely the next pope
will style himself John XXIV for fear of usurping the memory of the still very
popular John XXIII. Sixtus VI might be something of a tongue-twister for English
speakers, though the Spanish would have an easier time saying “Sixto Sexto.”
|Adrian VI (1459-1523)|
Last non-Italian pope until John Paul II
The College of Cardinals undoubtedly operates off a list identical to the one shown below,
but there hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Felix II, who reigned during Pope
Liberius’s banishment (355-358), was declared a pretender or “antipope” so lists
usually skip from Felix I to Felix III. Consequently you’ll often see notations
like Felix III (II) which might be interpreted as “Felix, numerically the third but rightfully the
second.” Next, there were two popes named Stephen II elected in 752. The first
died on the fourth day of his reign and is therefore usually ignored, but not by
everyone; so like Felix above, except in reverse, you’ll see Stephen II (III),
Stephen III (IV) and so on.
Next, Sylvester III, who set up shop during Benedict
IX’s banishment of 1045 (more about him below), and Sylvester IV (1105-1111) were both declared
antipopes. Thus the next Sylvester could be either Sylvester V (III), or,
ignoring the two mountebanks entirely, just plain Sylvester III again. And
finally, due to yet another antipope muddle, there was no Pope John XX. When
physician Pedro Giuliano took the keys in 1276 he instead called himself John XXI.
The longest run of a single ordinal began in 1241 with Celestine IV and
continued with Innocent IV, Alexander IV, Urban IV and finally Clement IV until
1268. Two centuries earlier Benedict IX set a record in having been pope three
(four? five?) separate times.
|Unconfirmed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI|
He was first installed as a teenager by his father
in 1032. An angry mob deposed him in 1036 but within weeks Holy Roman Emperor
Conrad II put him back on the throne. Ousted again in 1045 in favor of Pope
Sylvester III, he gathered an army over several months, retook the papacy, and
declared Sylvester an antipope. A while later he decided to marry, so he sold
his office to his godfather who became Gregory VI.
But when Benedict’s girl ditched him he returned, deposed his godfather, and held
the papacy once more until July 1046. At that time Holy Roman Emperor Henry III called
the Council of Sutri to sort out the mess and installed Clement II. When Clement
conveniently died a year later from ingesting “lead sugar” (plumbous
acetate) Benedict returned and reinstated himself yet again. The following July a party
supporting Poppo of Brixon deposed Benedict, for the last and final time, and Poppo
(whose mom must have been psychic to name him that) became Damasus II.
More papal history
John Paul III
Stephen X (XI)
Deusdedit II (Adeodatus III)
Felix V (IV)
Anacletus II (Cletus II)
You’ll notice there were many uniquely named pontiffs*, especially in the bottom
half of this list before the tenth century or so when they tended to go by their
birth names. Pope John II was the first to depart from this and reject his birth
name, Mercury, in 533. Francis is the first pope to break in a new name since the tenth century.
There’s certainly nothing to stop his successor from ignoring the
81 choices above and using his own birth name, though that hasn’t
happened since Marcellus II (b. Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi)
* The first true pope in the modern sense was St. Leo I (440-461). His 44
predecessors, from Sixtus III going back to St. Peter, but for one exception,
are more properly termed bishops of Rome. That exception is St. Siricius
(384-399) who called himself a pope. Information regarding the first few
centuries of this history is scant and unreliable, so it’s widely understood
that some of the names at the bottom half of this list may well be incorrect or even fictitious.
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