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Why Pope Francis?

by Melissa Brunner

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was introduced as the new Pope Wednesday, it also was announced he would take the name Pope Francis I. It is reported he selected the name to honor his favorite saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

It brings up the question: Why do cardinals choose a new name when selected Pope?

I'm Catholic and did not recall the answer, so I did some checking for the answer and here's what I learned.

Selecting a new name is a tradition that dates back 533. Pope John II's birth name was Mercurius, which is derived from Mercury. Mercury was a pagan Roman god and Pope John II did not believe a belonging to a pagan religion was appropriate for a successor of St. Peter. Mercurius chose "John" to honor a previous pope.

While some Popes since then have kept their baptismal names, every Pope since 1555 has elected to take a new name. It has come to symbolize entering their new life as head of the Catholic Church. The Pope typically takes the name of a favorite saint or a previous Pope whom he admires.

And now we know!

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