There is an established practice throughout history and in many areas of the world when someone is elevated to royal, or otherwise elevated status and position — they are given a new name. This name is often referred to as a regnal name, or a reign name, and is different than the given name at birth. This practice is particularly well known in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope, upon being elected to his position, is called upon to give himself a new name. This process goes something like this:
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.
I announce to you a great joy:
We have a Pope!
The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord,
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [surname],
who takes to himself the name [papal name].1
Such was the procedure when Pope Benedict XVI was elected not long ago, his birth name originally being Joseph Alois Ratzinger.
But this practice is not confined to Catholicism. It has been noted in ancient Assyria, Judah, Egypt, Asia, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. When monarchs ascend to the throne in parts of Asia, they often discard their prince name, and take on a new name that they call a temple name. The reason for this is stated:
The name “temple” refers to the “grand temple” (太廟), also called “great temple” (大廟) or “ancestral temple” (祖廟), where crown princes and other royalties gathered to worship their ancestors. On the ancestral tablets in the grand temple, it is the ruler’s temple names that are written there.2
This practice has even made its way into literary and cinematic fiction, such as when Aragorn of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is given the new name Elessar Telcontar by Galadriel when he ascends the throne of Gondor and Arnor. Or even more recent, when Padmé Naberrie of the Star Wars series is given a Name of State of Queen Amidala, and Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.
These are royal names, given because of a change in stature, state, status, or stage in life. More examples from the Bible could be given, such as when Abram is renamed Abraham before he becomes a father, and at the same time his wife Sarai becomes Sarah (Genesis 17).
A particularly poignant episode in Genesis 32 is when Jacob is renamed Israel by an angel after “wrestling” with it for some time during the night, as a sign of the covenant God made with him:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Genesis 32:24–30)
Such has a similar practice been passed on in the practices, customs, beliefs, and rites of initiation of many cultures and religions around the world.Notes: