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Worst Papal Names

Many Catholics were hoping that the successor to Pope John Paul II would bring new life and modern ideas to the 2,000-year-old church.

Instead, they got Pope Benedict. And not just Benedict, but Benedict XVI. It's hard to be fresh and modern when your surname is "The Sixteenth."

Popes have been recycling the names used by previous pontiffs for than 1,000 years now, and the last couple centuries have been plagued with an excess of Benedicts, Piuses, Leos and Johns. Even John Paul I was a cop-out, combining the names of the two popes immediately preceding him.

This unfortunate lack of imagination is inexcusable, since the papal roster is littered with some wonderful and original names. Many of these, unfortunately, will probably never be heard again. Some were abandoned simply because they were stupid; others were tainted by the stench of death and corruption. But all of them share one thing in common: They possess a tiny modicum of entertainment value.

Some of these popes were born with the names by which they are remembered. In the early church, popes didn't always adopt a new name on taking office, which may account for some of the weirder entries on the official list of popes.

There have been 45 popes whose names were only ever used once (give or take an antipope or two over the years). Some of the popes in question have simply been forgotten. In other instances, their names have taken on unfortunate connotations during the ensuing centuries.

The list of one-hit wonders includes Fabian, Agatho, Cletus, Eutychia, Evaristus, Telesphorus, Anicetus, Soter, Eleutherius, Zephyrinus, Dionysius (!), Anterus, Cornelius, Caius, Marcellinus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Marcus, Liberius, Siricius, Hormisdas, Silverius, Vigilius, Sabinian, Deusdedit, Severinus, Vitalian, Donus, Constantine, Zachary, Valentine, and Romanus. But there are a few names that are now especially distinguished, either for their ridiculousness or their notoriety.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the 10 lamest names in papal history, as determined by a rigorous scientific process which demanded strict anonymity.

10. Pope Linus: Although Linus was the second pope, and thus theoretically worthy of commemoration, there is virtually no historical record to support the notion that he actually existed, a fact which subsequent pontiffs have wisely chosen to downplay.

9. Pope Pontain: As if being named Pontain wasn't bad enough, this pope also suffered the indignity of being exiled to the equally amusingly named Sardinia, where he was forced into a labor camp and eventually died a slave. Admittedly, that part is not so funny.

8. Pope Conon: aka "The Barbarian." Other than his mildly amusing name, there is nothing to recommend this pope as being worthy of your historical notice, which is probably why no one has decided to honor his memory. Hell, even Eugene made it to IV before being abandoned.

7. Pope Zosimus: By every account, a lousy pope with a lousy name, who allowed theological and political controversy to fester during his fifth century reign.

6. Pope Peter: Despite his elevated status as the first and best pope, no one has ever taken the name Peter again. It might simply be too much hubris, although many popes have been plenty hubristic, so that's not necessarily the case. Alternatively, you have to consider the fact that St. Malachy prophesied that Pope Peter II would escort the church into the Apocalypse. Who wants to invite that kind of trouble?

5. Pope Lando He was pope for one year during the disreputable days of the 10th century. It's a little known fact that he also owned the Millennium Falcon before Han Solo. Seriously, though, Lando was the last pope to rule under a name that does not currently require the attachment of a Roman numeral. Good for a historical footnote, at the least.

4. Pope Formosus: The name "Formosus" isn't inherently amusing, but his story was pretty bizarre. After a controversial papacy and subsequent death, Formosus was exhumed so his corpse could be put on trial by Pope Stephen VII. After being sentenced to posthumous disfigurement, the corpse was tossed in the river, later reburied, then possibly exhumed again and beheaded under Sergius III. You can imagine that no one would be particularly eager to invoke the memory of Formosus after all that. Pope Hilarius

3. Pope Simplicius: Simplicius succeeded Hilarius during the rule of Roman Emperor Zeno, another unfortunately-named dignitary. There is no evidence that he was a simpleton, despite what his name suggests.

2. Pope Hyginus: This second-century pope tried to get the heretics back into the fold, but they all decided to go back to being heretics. There is no historical footnote as to whether he was a particularly clean man, but when you have a name like Hyginus, well, let's just say it raises expectations.

1. Pope Hilarius: Naturally, any pope from Sardinia stands a good chance of being hilarious, but did he have to be Hilarius? This fifth century pope distinguished himself as a bishop by hiding from his fellow bishops (who were enraged over an intramural squabble) in the tomb of St. John the Apostle.

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