ROME: Possibly a couple of dozen cardinals went into this conclave with a papal name chosen ready to use, because the new pope has to announce it immediately, and no doubt the time immediately after the election is emotionally overwhelming.

The papal name chosen is seen as significant for the direction the pope intends to pursue. For example, when Josef Ratzinger took the name Benedict, it was understood to honour Benedict XV, who worked for peace during World War I and signify his intention to work to re-evangelise Europe after the 6th century monk Benedict, while John Paul II took his name from his predecessor who died 33 days after being elected in 1978.

Leo was firm favourite in pre-announcement betting, named for Leo XIII, the 19th century pope who focused on social justice. No pope has been Leo since. The choice of Pius would be interpreted as intending a tough traditional style.

Mercurius in 533 was the first to change his name on his ascension, because he felt his birth name, in honour of a Roman god, was inappropriate. The practice became traditional about 1000 years ago.

John has been the most common choice (the last was John XXIII, plus the two John Pauls), followed by Gregory (16), Benedict (15), Clement (14), Innocent and Leo (13 each) and Pius (12). There has never been another Peter, out of respect for the first office-holder and possibly because of the prophecy that the next pope called Peter will be the last pope of all.

The prophecies of Malachy, a 12th century Irish archbishop, suggest that the pope elected now could be the last - he gave short Latin descriptions of 112 popes, 111 of whom have now gone. But the prophecies are thought to be the invention of Benedictine monk Arnold Wion, who published them in 1595 because they are extremely accurate until 1590, before falling away.