Once the cardinals select the new pope, in this case Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the real decision-making begins: That pope will have to settle on a new name.
“In the Bible, when you get a new job from God, you pick a new name or you’re given a new name, and that’s the [same] idea — they feel they’ve chosen to do this very weighty job and they need a name that will sort of help them and inspire them,” said William Portier, the chair of Catholic theology at the University of Dayton, in a CTV News report.
Newly elected popes “can choose whatever name they want,” Mr. Portier said.
Popular history shows popes began changing their names in 533, when Pope John II — named Mercurius at birth — didn’t want to have a pagan god’s name in his new church role. But others say the practice originated earlier. Biblical stories point to the renaming of Simon to Peter, as he morphed from fisherman to apostle of Jesus and brought into existence the Roman Catholic Church. Some in the Church consider Peter the first pope, CTV News says.
History aside, the name change is considered important. It sends a message of how the pope will lead, and what direction he will take the Church.
“They’re thinking about something when they choose the name,” said Mr. Portier, in the CTV News report. “It is possible to read too much into it, but definitely it has a meaning so it’s not frivolous to try to figure out what it is.”
If the new pope chose Pius, that would send a message of a return to church tradition and the end of modernization, Mr. Portier said.
“If he chose that name, Pius, that would be a real surprise,” Mr. Portier said, in the CTV News report. “To choose the name Pius would be to look back. It would be kind of scary to me and I think it would be scary to a lot of people.”
Pope Benedict XVI chose his name based on prior church leaders who inspired him, CTV News says.