As you read about the Pope’s visit to Britain, you may begin to wonder about his name. After all, what does “pope” actually mean? And how does a pope get his name after he assumes the papacy?

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and thereby the world leader of the Catholic Church. The word comes from the Latin papa, which means “father.” He is also the head of the Vatican, the tiny, sovereign, city-state within Rome. The Catholic Church believes that he is the Apostle Peter’s successor and may speak infallibly, when he chooses to speak ex cathedra, which literally means “from the chair of St. Peter.”

(What do “mosque,” “temple,” and “church” literally mean? Find the answer, here.)

The Pope cruises around in the Popemobile, an open-topped car. Unlike the centuries-old history of the word “pope,” the word “Popemobile” was first used in 1979. His tall hat is called a mitre, the large band of cloth that he wears around his neck is a pallium.

Within the Sistine Chapel, in a meeting called the “conclave,” the cardinal electors choose a new Pope. The meeting is called a conclave – a word that in Latin means “a room which may be locked” — because the cardinals are “locked in” to this important task. It takes a two-thirds majority to elect a Pope.

Then comes the exciting part.

After the ballots are counted, they are burned in a stove in the Sistine Chapel. The smoke escapes through a small chimney. If the vote has been unsuccessful the ballots are burned with a special chemical compound to make fumata nera, or black smoke.

But if fumata bianca rises from the chimney, the Catholic world can be reassured that they have a new leader.

The new pope is expected to choose and announce his regnal, or reign name, which is the formal name used during his time as pope. Monarchs practice a similar tradition when they inherit a throne. There are no particular rules regarding what name a pope may choose, but generally their decision is viewed as a reflection of practices or tendencies they favor.


  1. Berean -  November 26, 2013 - 6:21 pm


    Do you sleep well knowing that all possible objections have been refuted? You don’t even need to read them. Just knowing they are there apparently keeps you confident that you are following the truth. I say that because I seriously doubt you have read and scrutinized it all.

    Let me ask, as I’ve asked catholics before- maybe you’re different- is it even possible that there is a slight chance that the catholic church is wrong on even just one of it’s dogmas? Is it even a possibility?

  2. ella -  August 26, 2013 - 4:28 pm

    If you still want some more intelligent people that can explain you about the Catholic faith; Go to you tube and start watching Fr. Robert Barron.

    You can also check out Dr. Peter Kreeft. If you are a Bible fanatic, go and browse the ex-protestant Dr. Scott Hahn. I will not refer you to ignorant people because there are prominent speakers and scholars in the Catholic Church that you can ever imagine.

    Now decide for yourself how Catholic Faith (which some of you think as “idiotic) can attract and produce highly intellectual people as such. If you are smarter than them, then I challenge you to read Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Think about Pascal, Descartes, Galileo, Mendel, Erasmus, Bach, Mozart, need more names? They are the prominent world changers but never failed to be faithful Catholics.

    Don’t get stuck on the dark age people. Even Jesus Christ promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail to destroy His Church that he left to Peter the Rock and succeeded by unbroken lines of popes. His promise remains to this day because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
    Mt.16:17-20; 1Tim3:15

  3. ella -  August 26, 2013 - 4:08 pm

    To all non-Catholics and ex-catholics here that mocks the belief and the authority of the Church. I don’t blame you for your comments and harsh words against Catholicism. You are simply ignorant of what the Catholic faith and tradition is all about. I assure you that all your questions, doubts, and criticisms have been refuted and answered by the Church and apologists (if you even know that word) with its 2000 years of existence. Just because you’ve been an ex-Catholic or even non-believers who heard about the practices of some Catholics, does not mean you have the full knowledge of what we believe. Your ignorance is not new and you are part of the millions who misunderstood what Catholicism is all about as Bishop Fulton said (you can search him in you tube). Anyway, please do yourselves a favor…we are now in the age of internet. There is nothing secret about the Catholic Church. Instead of browsing the anti-Catholic website, why don’t you start browsing the Vatican.VA. If that seems too hard for you to decipher, go to EWTN.Com. or to Marcus Grodi’s show about the anti-catholics who finally saw the truth. These are the legit sites. Dropping your comments based on rumors and fallen-away catholics just make you all ignoramus. Harsh but truth is always hard to swallow!

  4. bible believer -  March 1, 2013 - 3:29 am

    Dear X Cat.
    Yes the bible does indead say to call no man
    Father…but this has never stopped catholics.
    Catholics put their religion above the word of
    God, even though the Bible says that Jesus is
    The WORD. I HAVE always chosen to never refer
    To a priest as father, most of the catholics I know
    Regularly use Gods name in vain, and they use Jesus
    Name as a slang word, thus perhaps u can see why
    I have no respect for theirreligion

  5. LaDawn -  February 28, 2013 - 7:12 am

    4. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.
    5. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
    1. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ

    The Catholic Church believes that he is the Apostle Peter’s successor and may speak infallibly.

    Only God is in infallibly

  6. Ex Catholic -  February 14, 2011 - 12:15 am

    Dosent it say in the bible that no one shall call any one father but the father himself (god) and no one shall shake the hand of a priest calling him father ever because there is only one father (god) and God did not give any one his position not even the pope so whats up with the whole pope thing any ways……kind of idiotic isn’t it?

  7. lewis -  October 16, 2010 - 6:46 am

    the pope is ausome

  8. KM -  September 24, 2010 - 12:39 pm


    Wow…I thought the Catholic faith taught understanding and acceptance. First, how do you know Poppins isn’t Catholic? And second, and perhaps more importantly, how does the fact that one is or is not Catholic make his or her opinion on the issue ‘moot’? Are tolerance and providing the opportunity for dissent and discussion not some of the signs of an enlightened and democratic society? Apparently not in your world. To switch gears a little to your holy book to prove a point…many of the stars of the bible are also important in other religions, namely Judaism, Islam, and Baha’i. So…would you say that those who believe in these other religions are less qualified to make a comment on the bible? I think not. For the record, I was born and baptised Catholic, stopped going to church around 8 years of age because something about it just didn’t feel right. Years later, I decided to do some research into all major religions, and now happily straddle the fence between agnosticism and atheism, picking and choosing elements of each religion that I feel are reflective of an upstanding humanity. So, I am technically qualified to comment on how the Pope is selected, right? Well then, I think locking that many men in a room for days on end is ridiculous and an unnecessary amount of hoopla for a position that doesn’t actually carry much power. Kind of like the president or prime minister…how many decisions do you think he actually makes? He or she doesn’t have the time to research everything…they rely on ADVISORS. Just like your beloved pope and similar to the way the bible was written – by committee.

  9. Jack -  September 24, 2010 - 2:15 am

    It’s a little silly to suggest that the popes are “locked in to their task.” The Latin roots mean “with a key,” suggesting that conclaves are the most private of affairs, and that it’s really others who are “locked out” of the proceedings.

  10. Pam -  September 21, 2010 - 1:15 am

    @ Steve Using “their” is not grammatically incorrect. “Their” is not plural. “Their” means belonging to themselves. Yes, Popes are all males and using “his” would be more suffice but “their” was not used incorrectly.

  11. Greg -  September 20, 2010 - 1:23 pm

    What’s a Pope?

  12. #1 Skillet fan -  September 20, 2010 - 10:40 am

    as sure as the pope is catholic, St. Patrick was not (he died around 461 A.D., before the Roman {catholic} church even came about). And by the way, he wasn’t Irish- he was Scottish

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