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A regnal name, or reign name, is a formal name used by some popes and monarchs during their reigns. Since medieval times, monarchs have frequently chosen to use a name different from their own personal name when they inherit a throne.

The new name (or sometimes the old one, confirmed) is followed by an ordinal to give a unique name for the period when the monarch is on the throne. However, in the case of a personal union, the same ruler may carry different ordinals in each state, as they are each assigned chronologically; but some may have more precursors of the same Christian name (usually from a different dynasty).

In parts of Asia, monarchs take era names. Even where that is not the case, rulers may — instead of a whole dynasty, as is the case with Georgian, referring to several Georges of the Hanoverian dynasty — become eponymous of their age, e.g. in Britain: Victorian (even applied to the rest of the world, and less correctly to its alleged prudish mentality) or Edwardian.

Ancient rulers

Ancient rulers in many parts of the world took regnal names or throne names which were different from their personal name. This is known to be true, for instance, of several kings of Assyria, and appears to be the case for several Kings of Judah. In Ancient Egypt, Pharaohs took a number of names - the praenomen, was the most commonly used, on occasion in conjunction with their personal name.

East Asia

In parts of Asia, it is more a rule than an exception that monarchs take additional names when ascending, and quite often discard the name they were known by as princes. Often the assumed name is different from his childhood name, and a new temple name could be assumed. A posthumous name is sometimes accorded to a deceased monarch. For details on the multiple names assumed by individual East Asian monarchs, see:

Roman Catholic Church

Immediately after a new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, "By what name shall you be called?" The Pope-elect chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior Cardinal Deacon, or Cardinal Protodeacon, then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter's to proclaim the new Pope, informing the world of the man elected Pope, and under which name he would be known during his reign.

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:Habemus Papam!Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,Dominum [forename],Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem [surname],qui sibi nomen imposuit [papal name].
I announce to you a great joy:We have a Pope!The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord,Lord [forename],Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [surname],who has conferred [lit. "placed"] upon himself the name [papal name].

During the first centuries of the church, men elected bishop of Rome continued to use their baptismal names after their elections. The custom of choosing a new name began in AD 533 with the election of Mercurius. Mercurius had been named after the Roman god Mercury, and decided that it would not be appropriate for a pope to be named after a Roman god. Mercurius subsequently decreed that he would be known as John II. Since the end of the tenth century the pope has customarily chosen a new name for himself during his Pontificate; however, until the 16th century some men used their baptismal names.

The last pope to use his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II in 1555, a choice that was even then quite exceptional. The names chosen by popes are not based on any system other than general honorifics. They have been based on immediate predecessors, mentors, political similarity, or even after family members—as was the case with Pope John XXIII. The practice of a man using his baptismal name as pope has not been ruled out and future popes could elect to continue using their baptismal names after being elected pope.

Often the man's choice of name upon being elected to the papacy is seen as a signal to the world of whom the new pope will emulate or what policies he will seek to enact. Such is the case with Benedict XVI who, in fact, explained the reasons for his choice of name during his first General Audience in St. Peter's Square, on 27 April 2005. On that occasion, he said that he wanted to remember "Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war," and also "Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe."

There has never been a Pope Peter II. Even though there is no specific prohibition against doing so, men elected to the Papacy have refrained from doing so. This is because of a tradition that only Saint Peter should have that honor. In the 10th century John XIV used the regnal name John because his given name was Peter. While some antipopes did take the name Peter II, their claims are not recognized by the mainstream Roman Catholic Church, and each of these men only either has or had a minuscule following that recognized their claims.

Probably because of the controversial Antipope John XXIII, men avoided taking the regnal name John for over 600 years until the election of the other John XXIII. Immediately after John's election as Pope in 1958, there was some confusion as to whether he would be known as John XXIII or John XXIV, which he moved to immediately resolve by declaring that he would be known as John XXIII.

In 1978, Albino Luciani became the first pope to use two names for his regnal name when he took the name John Paul I. He did this to honor both John XXIII and Paul VI. With the unexpected death of John Paul I a little over a month later, Karol Wojtyła took the name John Paul II to honor his immediate predecessors.

Antipopes also have regnal names, and also use the ordinal to show their position in the line of previous pontiffs with their names. For example, David Bawden took the name Michael I when declared pope in 1990.

United Kingdom

Though most monarchs of the United Kingdom have used their first baptismal name as their regnal name, on three occasions monarchs have varied from this trend: Queen Victoria was christened Alexandrina Victoria, but was titled Princess Victoria from birth and took the throne under that name. When Victoria's son, Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, became king in 1901, he took the regnal name Edward VII, in defiance of the wish of his late mother that her descendants would rule as double-barreled Albert-[Name]s indefinitely. The new king declared that he chose the name Edward alone as an honoured name borne by six of his predecessors, and that he did not wish to diminish the status of his father, with whom alone among royalty the name Albert should be associated. In 1936, after the abdication crisis, Prince Albert, Duke of York, assumed the throne as King George VI in order to continue Edward VII's tradition of not using the title King Albert. George's title applied in all of the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, as, at that time, the legislation laying out the monarch's title predated the 1931 Statute of Westminster and still applied in the Dominions unchanged.There has been some speculation as to the regnal title to be chosen by Charles, Prince of Wales upon his eventual succession. He has reportedly stated that he will take the title as George VII in honour of his grandfather, and the dubious reputations of the two King Charles' before him.

Commonwealth realms

Upon the accession, in 1952, of Princess Elizabeth (who was baptized Elizabeth Alexandra Mary), Duchess of Edinburgh, to the thrones of each of the Commonwealth realms, she was asked by Martin Charteris, then her Assistant Private Secretary, what she intended to be called as monarch, she replied: "Oh, my own name; what else?" This dispelled speculation that she would leave the name Elizabeth as the unique possession of the earlier monarch, who, as a consequence of the contemporary Elizabeth's choice, was thereafter known as Elizabeth I. However, though the situation was the same in every one of the Queen's realms beyond England (save perhaps for Canada), only in Scotlandmarker did the title Elizabeth II cause controversy as there had never been an Elizabeth I in Scotland. In a rare act of sabotage, new Royal Mail post boxes in Scotland, bearing the cypher EIIR, were vandalised, after which, to avoid further problems, post boxes and Royal Mail vehicles in Scotland bore only the Crown of Scotland. A legal case, MacCormick v. Lord Advocate (1953 SC 396), was taken to contest the right of the Queen to title herself Elizabeth II within Scotland, arguing that to do so would be a breach of the Act of Union. The case, however, was lost on the grounds that the pursuers had not title to sue the Crown, and also that the numbering of monarchs was part of the Royal Prerogative, and thus not governed by the Act of Union.

Regnal names in fiction

  • In Star Wars, those people of Naboo who entered into political life adopted a "Name of State." This name of state is used for public occasions and represents the honor and dignity of the office one chooses. Padmé Naberrie adopted the name of Amidala. The leader of the Mandalorians traditionally took the name Mandalore to replace his own, but this practice was discontinued. People who become Sith Lords also adopt a new name (usually with the title "Darth"), and are said to have become a different person, most famously Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader.
  • Ralph Jones (John Goodman) — the King of the United Kingdommarker in the movie King Ralph — was asked to consider taking a regnal name by his private secretary. Ralph decided to keep his original name.
  • When Kiril Pavlovich Lakota (Anthony Quinn) is elected pope in the movie The Shoes of the Fisherman, he breaks with tradition and decides to continue being known by his given name, thus becoming Pope Kiril I. He explains that he was taking the name in honor of Saint Cyril.
  • Upon ascending to the thrones of Gondor and Arnor, Aragorn of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings takes the name Elessar (Quenya; Elfstone), which was given to him by Galadriel.
  • In the Transformers universe, leaders of the Autobots often lead under a new name. A3 led as Alpha Trion, Orion Pax as Optimus Prime, and Hot Rod as Rodimus Prime. However, the recipient of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership often displays a marked change in personality as well as their body changing form; as such taking a different name may be due to them being considered separate entities.
  • In Sailor Moon, the character Usagi Tsukino was called Princess Serenity in a past life. When she regains her royal status, as the ruler of "Crystal Tokyo," she changes her name to Neo-Queen Serenity.
  • In the Halo franchise the three Prophet Hierarchs of the Covenant assume new names upon taking office.

See also


  1. Lacey, 151.

External links

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