What Is the Most Common Papal Name?

There have been 264 official popes of the Catholic Church, as of the time of Pope Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013. This total includes Pope Benedict IX once, despite serving as pope three separate times, and it doesn't count Stephen II who died before being consecrated. Twenty-one pontiffs (just under 8%) have taken the most common papal name of John. The next most popular papal names have been (in order of popularity): Benedict, Gregory, Clement, and Innocent. No pope has ever taken the name Peter as that would be interpreted as immodest since popes are seen as successors to the original pope, Saint Peter.

More papal facts:

  • Saint Peter, one of Jesus' twelve apostles, served as the first pope to the Catholic Church from around 32 AD to 67 AD. (These dates vary among different sources.)
  • Though there is a Pope John XXIII, there have only been 21 Pope Johns. This is because 24 people to use this name, two were antipopes, and one didn't actually exist — a numbering mistake meant that the line went from Pope John XIX to XXI, skipping over XX.

  • Originally, popes were given their papal names. In 533, this changed when Pope John II chose that name over his given name of Mercurius because the latter had pagan ties.
  • The youngest pope was John XII who was 18 years old in 955 AD.
  • Pope Benedict IX was the only man to be Pope more than once after being expelled once and either stepping down to get married or selling the papacy (sources disagree as to the real motivation) another time.

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