Why did a few popes choose astrological signs as their papal names?

Hey everyone. I am thinking of Pope Leo the Great here. Why did he choose the astrological sign of “Leo” which is a lion for his papal name? I mean, astrology did exist back then so I am assuming he would have known it was the name of an astrological sign. So, why did he and others choose astrological signs for their names?

Perhaps his given name and his papal name are the same. I looked him up and couldn’t find a pre-Pope name associated with him.

Yeah I suppose that could be true but weren’t there other Pope Leo’s, even some Pope Saint Leo’s, other than Pope Saint Leo the Great? I guess for his successors who chose that name they chose his name because he was recognized as a saint by then similar to how Pope Benedict XVI chose the name Benedict after Saint Benedict.

Leo is simply the Latin word for ‘lion’. It does not necessarily refer to the astrological sign, which in turn is named for the actual constellation of Leo (which itself is so named because it’s supposed to look like a lion). The name Rachel is Hebrew for ‘lamb’ or ‘ewe’. It was common in the past to give names having to do with animals, since animals were identified with particular qualities one might hope their child to have. Lions are identified with courage, majesty, strength. Lambs with humility, gentleness, meekness, and purity. Although I cannot speak for any of the popes named Leo, it is possible they chose it as a reference to Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Or, they simply chose it in reference to the qualities evoked by a lion, as I said: courage, majesty, strength, etc. :slight_smile: It is likely the other popes named Leo chose the name primarily to honor the first Leo, Pope Saint Leo the Great.

Hmmm, thanks! I knew that Leo was Latin for lion but I did not draw it out to the conclusions that you did. Thanks again! :thumbsup:

No problem! :slight_smile:

Just as an interesting and somewhat related fact, it is also worth noting that the first generations of Christians did not seem to have a custom of taking a Christian name. This is how we have wound up with several saints who bear common names derived from the names of Greek gods, like Dionysus (also Denis), Demetrios (as well as Dimitri), or Apollinaris.

It’s also how we got the custom of popes changing their names. When Mercurius was elected Pope, he probably didn’t feel it appropriate to have a pope bearing the name of a pagan god. He changed it to John, becoming Pope John II, the first to adopt a regnal name. This was in 533.

Pope Leo I began his reign in 440, so Leo was his birth name as he predates John II.

i didnt even know that was a 'thing" lol.
it may have something to do with a personal affinity for what the Leo symbolises, or it could be just that he liked the name Leo

I always figured that the reason for this was simply because there weren’t as many Christian names to choose from back then since there weren’t as many Christians. I mean they certainly could have named their children after one of the apostles or after a Biblical figure but they didn’t have to. Also, its possible that they didn’t adopt a Christian name for fear that it would make them more targeted by the Romans who were persecuting them at the time. I am not saying that Christians who didn’t have Christian names were ashamed or afraid of their Christianity but that they were simply being prudent by choosing a name not associated with Christianity.

aside from being nice names, didnt those saints actually “christianize” the names by becoming saints with those names?

Yes, I would say that they did. But if the name was not the name of a saint before that person was canonized then I don’t think they would have been considered Christian names until after the person with that name was canonized or otherwise declared a saint. In other words, a name wouldn’t actually be considered a “Christian” name just because a Christian had that name. It would be considered a Christian name because a very holy Christian had that name and that person was recognized by the Church as very holy. Now, I am definitely not an authority on this matter but this is just my opinion. If a person has been canonized, beatified, or declared venerable then I would say that their names are now Christian names if they were not already before that.

On the theme of animals, we have an early canonised saint, St Agnes, whose name literally means ‘lamb’ (think ‘Agnus Dei’, or ‘Lamb of God’).

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