Maybe another Gregory? Leo? John?
As Catholics around the world watch for white smoke above the papal conclave this week, speculation about the next pope’s choice for a holy moniker is heating up.
Bookies are even following the action, with popular Irish bookmaker Paddy Power offering 10/11 odds on Leo, 9/2 odds on Pius, and 6/1 odds on Gregory as of Tuesday afternoon.
The company is also offering fairly favorable odds on Peter, the original pope, but as the Economist notes, no one has yet dared take on Saint Peter’s legacy.
The practice of the pope choosing a name isn’t anything new, however.“A pope named after a pagan god — that wasn’t going to go over, PR-wise,” historian Biagio Mazza told the Kansas City Star.
Mercurius promptly rechristened himself John II.
NBC News reports that the practice didn’t become a papal tradition until 996, however, when a German pope name Bruno changed his name to Gregory V. Until then, popes simply went with their given first names, according to the Associated Press.
While incoming popes technically have their pick of numerous saints, apostles and Latin phrases, throughout the centuries, pontiffs have maintained a few clear favorites.
The Economist, which compiled a list of pope names since 32 AD, noted that John is the most popular choice by far, followed by Benedict and Gregory. Other popular names include Pius and Clement, Latin words meaning pious and merciful.
The name a pope chooses “sends a signal to the world,” the Economist notes, and it’s always dissected for clues about the incoming leader’s motivations and doctrine.
For example, a Pope John Paul III might be signaling a willingness for global outreach, Slate explains, while a pope who chooses the name Pius XIII might imply a “return of strong-handed traditionalism.”