The title should just about sum it up: How do popes choose their ‘official’ name (the name they’re best known by while they hold the office) and why have there been 16 Benedicts so far (that is, why are some names reused so often)?
I believe the new pope picks his own name. As for why names get reused so much, some names are just traditional.
The only restriction seems to be that you can’t choose “Peter.” And you can create a new name: John Paul I (named to honor John XXIII and Paul VI).
The tradition of choosing a name already used goes back a long, long way. Except for antipopes, it appears the last original name chosen was Romanus in 897.
Except for the John Pauls, no Pope had had a number less than V since Pius IV in 1559.
Where did the notion of choosing a new name originate?
From http://people.howstuffworks.com/papacy3.htm (see the inset)
In 533 a Cardinal named Mercurius was elected as the new pontiff, and decided that it was distasteful to retain his name (which is derived from the Greek (pagan) good Mercury) in his role as the leader of the church. So he changed his name to John II. The link states he did it to honor Pope John I, but I remember hearing that it was in honor of John the Baptist. No link, no cite, so grab a grain of salt. Either way, he was the first to adopt a new name and the tradition followed.
I’ve also heard that since this tradition started, popes adopt their names based on what they wish to bring to their reign. Benificent would tend to imply that he’s not interested in the fire and brimstone of, say, a Pius. This tidbit from something on NPR - no cite.
I dunno. I rather like the name Pope Pig-Face.
Last night during the various talking heads coverage of the election of the new pope, they claimed that choosing “Peter” as your pope name wasn’t “illegal”, but would be thought of poorly since he was the original pope. Supposedly when the pope again has the name “Peter” that is supposed to be another sign of the second coming…
The first 100 or so popes , if I understand the lists correctly, mostly used their Christian names; these were not generally their birth names, as it was a custom of the early Church to change one’s name upon baptism. The new name might have any origin, including pagan mythology, and this was not stigmatized at the time – the emphasis was on rebirth. As a catalog of Chistian names grew, it became more common to choose one of these, especially the name of a saint or martyr. A few early popes changed their names upon accession, for various reasons, and the last pope to keep his prior name was apparently Agapetus II, A.D. 946 - 956, or maybe John XVII, A.D. 1003.