Why no new papal names for over a millenium?

Over in the thread on papal names, Sunspace makes an interesting observation:

Why is that? I realize that the papacy is a conservative institution, but why hasn’t a new pope wanted to break ground in this area for over a thousand years? (And in my opinion, JPI doesn’t really count, since he said that he was choosing that name to pay homage to his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.)

I’d always heard this was the reason, actually. The tradition is that popes choose a name of a predecessor that they want to honor or emulate. The current pope, for example (from wiki):

Stupid tradition, as it makes remembering what pope did what difficult (though still better then the French tradition of almost every King Louis, though).

You could still honor previous popes while simultaneously bringing in new names, though. There was some speculation before Ratzinger officially chose Benedict that he would go with Carolus, in honor of John Paul II’s birth name. (Another suggestion was to follow up John Paul with Pope George Ringo, but that never really got off the ground.)

From The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2001)

Pietas in this context is the concept of devotion, duty to, or respect for.

Interesting - but none of that applies to John XXIII or Paul VI, who revived names from long-dead popes with whom they had no personal connexion, so it’s not an iron-clad requirement.

As others have noted, it’s a sign of pietas towards his pedecessors in the office. It also makes the Pope realise that he’s but one link in a very long chain and reinforces the historical context of the Church, the apostolic succession and the deposit of faith which the Pope must uphold. Perhaps it also puts him in his place a bit? The current Pope may be in charge right now, but he’ll come and go like all of the others.

Pope John XII started the tradition of changing your name when you were elected pope. Prior to John XII (real name Octavian), the only pope to change his name was John II. His real name was Mercurius and didn’t want to be associated with a pagan deity.

So, since 964, all elected popes have changed their names.

Wasn’t there also a pope who was born with the name Peter, but who felt that the Apostle ought to be the only Pope Peter?

What would be the reaction within the Vatican if someone wanted to break tradition and either a) Retain his given name (seriously, what’s wrong with Pope Joseph I?), or b) Introduce a new name?

That’s when it became customary, but there were still exceptions:

Pope Lando?


One of the popes during the period of papal history known as the pornocracy (you can’t make this stuff up).

That explains how Pope Lando got his position: he won it in a gambling game with Baron Reynor.