A Brief History
On December 20, 217 AD, reigning Pope Saint Zephyrinus died, replaced by Callixtus I as his successor. Not only did “Z” as we will call him have a name that strikes us today as a bit unusual, his actual birth name was Zepheniah.
The names Zephyrinus and Callixtus are just not chosen by new popes often, especially in more recent years, but in the old days such names were probably not so uncommon. Zephyrinus was Pope from 199 to 217, and was considered a martyr even though he did not die in defense of the faith, given honorary status as a martyr because of the stressful times in which he was Pope. In 1969, the list of Catholic martyrs was revised and poor old Zephyrinus lost his status as a martyr. Zephyrinus was the only Pope among the first 31 to hold that position not to die as a martyr.
Some of the other nifty names of Popes you may not be familiar with among the 266 men that have held the job include the following, each of which is the only Pope by that name. Although the list could go on and on, due to space constraints we will stop at the end of the 5th Century. (Years in office before each name.)
76-88: Anacietus (155-166: similar, but not same name, Anicetus)
136-140: Hyginus (probably the cleanest Pope of all)
236-250: Fabian (named after a rock star?)
259-268: Dionysus (oddly named after a Greek God!)
461-468: Hilarious (this guy was, well, Hilarius!)
468-483: Simplifies (not a complicated guy)
For some reason, none of the 220 Popes that followed those listed here chose to recycle any of these names. Oddly enough, the current Pope, Pope Francis, is the first Pontiff to choose that name for his Papacy, considering that it is a not-uncommon name both now and many years ago and we have several Saints by that name.
Question for students (and subscribers): What are your favorite names of past Popes or ones you would like to see a future Pope adopt? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Duffy, Eamon. Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, 2015.
O’Malley SJ, John W. A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present. Sheed & Ward, 2011.