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How do Popes Choose Their Names?

Q. How did the custom of Popes choosing new names arise?

A. First some background: The earliest popes did not choose a different name once they took the papal throne. The first to do so was Pope John II (died 535). This pontiff was a Roman by birth, who was named Mercurius after the Roman god Mercury. He took the Christian name John because he thought a pagan name would be a dishonor to the papal office.

Pope John III (died 574) may also have changed his name, but we don’t know for sure. In the latter part of the tenth century, four more popes chose new names for themselves upon ascending the throne. The custom was firmly established by the middle of the eleventh cen