John Paul I, who became pope in August of 1978, had very little time to leave his mark. But this William Henry Harrison of the papacy, who died of an apparent heart attack 33 days into his tenure, did break one longtime tradition in the first minutes on the job: In choosing the name “John Paul,” he was the first leader of the Catholic Church since Pope Lando, who died in 914 A.D., to pick a name no pope had used before. (In Lando’s case, no one would every use it again, either.)
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio followed that lead in choosing “Francis.” While there have now been 267 popes, according to the online Catholic Encyclopedia—or 266, some say, depending on how you count it—there have been only 82 names. “John” leads the papal pack with 23 namesakes, followed by a tie between “Gregory” and “Benedict” at 16 apiece.
The following interactive charts every pope by the year of his election and his place in his chosen name’s lineage. The dots are colored pink if the pope has been beatified and given the title “Blessed,” and gold if the pope has been canonized and given the title “Saint.”
In many cases, a new pope resurrects a dormant name, such as when Benedict XIII, who became pope in 1724, took a name last used by Benedict XII in 1342. By contrast, John Paul II, who died in 2005, took the name his immediate predecessor began before his untimely death. To examine a particular name, select it from the menu in the interactive to highlight only those popes.
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- William Henry Harrison
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