10 Best Pope Names and Their Originators

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The list of successors to the See of Peter offers up some epic names.  It is every good Catholic’s duty to consult this list in choosing a name for their male children. Here are ten epic Papal names.

10. URBAN (222-230)

 

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His name means “city-dweller” probably because he was born in Rome and was able to stay, since his pontificate was not marked by severe persecution. Urban was known as an effective apologist, which came in handy to win over separated Hippolytus Christians from the schismatic Hippolytus.   He now coaches at his alma mater, Ohio State and is recognised as a saint by both east and west.  8 popes have had the name Urban, making it the 10th most popular Papal name. 

Note: Some popes kept their given names…the ranking of Papal names on this list makes no distinction between whether names were kept or chosen upon ascension to the Papacy.  For an excellent look at the fascinating world of Papal names and their stats, see Jimmy Akin’s short book, Pope Names (2012).  The book was consulted for the statistics mentioned in this piece.

9. LINUS (67-79) 

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The second Pope.  Not much is known about St. Linus.  Tradition holds that he was martyred and that his remains were placed beside Peter’s near Vatican Hill, as most of the remains of the first popes were, with the exception of Clement I, who was martyred by being tied to an anchor and tossed into the Black Sea. He is probably the Linus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21.  It’s unknown if this first successor to Peter had a penchant for carrying around a blue blanket, but he does get a shout-out in Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon).  There has been only 1 Linus, which is a shame.

8. ADEODATUS (615-618)

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Sometimes rendered “Deodatus” or “Deusdedit”.  Not much is known about him except that he supported the clergy during a difficult time for the office. He was known for his charity and care for his suffering diocese following an earthquake and outbreak of leprosy, from which he is thought to have died. Talk about down on luck.  His name means “God by God.” Some people think they’re like, God’s gift the the Church or something. It is believed that he is the first to seal papal documents with lead. Only 2 popes have taken this name. The first is usually called Deusdedit to distinguish him from his predecessor. Both are recognized as saints. 

7. HILARIUS (461-468)

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This mid-5th century pontiff is nothing to laugh at (get it?). Hilarius worked for unity against schismatic sects in the Church and erected several buildings and churches in Rome. He was buried beneath the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, one of the pilgrim Churches of Rome. Only 1 pope has taken this name. I wonder why?

6. FELIX (269-274)

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Most of the history of this cat, whose name means “happy”, is centered around his being confused with someone else.  The Acts of the Council of Ephesus name Felix as a martyr, an error that persisted in the General Roman Calendar until the 1960s, probably confusing him with another Roman martyr with the same name.  He did write an important letter on the dogma of the unity of Christ’s Person though, so…happy, happy, happy.  Felix is the 18th most used Papal name, with 4 popes.

5. PIUS (140-154)

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Pius means well, pius, as in “holy.” This Pontiff supported that Easter should only be celebrated on a Sunday as was custom in Rome before the date for the liturgical celebration for Easter was fixed.  One of his claims to fame is that his brother is the author of the extra-canonical writing, The Shepherd of Hermas. Hermas was his brother. Several in and before his time believe that this writing should be canonical. While there is uncertainty about whether Pius was a martyr, he is recognised as a saint.  12 popes have been named Pius, the 7th most popular Papal name.

4. JOHN PAUL (August 26 1978-September 28 1978)

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In late August of 1978, Albino Luciani made history by becoming the first successor to Peter to take a double name, after his two predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.  Known as the “smiling Pope” (because he didn’t have much time to do much else), JPI died just 33 days into his reign of a heart attack.  The next Pope would also take the name John Paul in honour of his predecessor (John Paul II…you may have heard of him).  John Paul I is buried in the Vatican grotto beneath St. Peter’s Basilica and is recognised as “Servant of God” (one of the steps in the process toward canonization).  St. John Paul II’s tomb is in the chapel of St. Sebastian along the north aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica. 

3. LEO (440-461)

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One of four popes commonly referred to as “The Great” (Gregory, Nicholas, John Paul II).  Leo, as his name suggests, was a lion for the Church.  He worked to counter (among others) the Nestorian heresy and called the Council of Chalcedon to put it to rest.  Leo also instated many reforms and closed the remaining pagan temples in Rome.  He is credited with saving Rome from being sacked by Attila the Hun when, according to tradition, the two met and had a private conversation.  No one knows what was said, but after their meeting, Attila turned around and went home.  This meeting is classically paid homage to in a campaign in the PC game Age of Empires IIWith 13 popes named Leo, it is the 5th most popular Papal name.

 

2. AGAPETUS (535-536)

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He’s on the list because his name means the highest form of love, charity, sacrificial self-giving love, “agape“.  In dramatic fashion, this Pontiff’s first act upon becoming pope was to burn, in the presence of the assembled clergy, an anathema promulgated by his predecessor.  More in keeping with Petrine duties, he also confirmed the decrees of the Council of Carthage, which prevented Arian converts from being admitted to holy orders.  There have been 2 popes named Agapetus.  Only the first is recognised as a saint, and he is so by both east and west.

1. PETER (AD 32-67)

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Greek-Petros; Aramaic-Kephas.  You just can’t beat the original.  Meaning “rock”, as in, “solid as a rock”…or as in, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)  Born Simon bar-Jonah, this simple fisherman was martyred by being crucified upside down just a few away from where now stand the great Basilica and Piazza that bear his name. He was given his Papal name Our Lord Himself.  Thus, it is #1.  Like a boss.

Honorable Mentions:

Paschal, Celestine, Innocent, Francis, Agatho, Hygenis.

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