How I Named My Baby: Mercer Joaquin
Allison and Roberto Carrera, a stay-at-home-mom and a Hispanic program director at a seminary, live in Louisville, Kentucky with their three children. After two daughters, Adele Gianna and Margo Anaís, they welcomed a son named Mercer Joaquin on August 14, 2021.
Below, we talk to Allison about how she and Roberto chose the baby name Mercer for their little boy.
Take me through the name story! How did you name Mercer?
We have two daughters, and it was important that their names all went together in a sibling set. Our daughters’ names, Adele and Margot, work in both English and Spanish. My husband’s first language is Spanish, and he speaks Spanish to them.
I always keep a running baby name list on my phone in the notes app. Pregnant or not, I just keep it going, because you never know when you need a name! I’m always adding to the list. Mercer was on the list from our last pregnancy, with our daughter Margot, before we knew she was a girl.
I saw Mercer on a French baby names list. I tend to look for French names because they sound good in English and Spanish. My husband and I do not agree on names very easily — we have very different taste. He likes stronger, more masculine names like Vasco and Salvador, whereas I like old British man names like Rupert and Percy and Piers. He didn’t like any of those — they are too Anglican. Which is true!
Every once in a while, I would go through the name list and read it to Roberto. I’d say, “How about this one? What about this?” and would mark off the “maybes.” We would give it a break and then go back to the maybes. Mercer was the one we kept coming back to.
The only Mercer I know of is the children’s book author, Mercer Mayer, who wrote the Little Critter books. People know about him! And Mercer is also a common place name, at least where I’m from in Pennsylvania. People know Mercer County, Mercer Township, and those things. So it’s not an unfamiliar word, it’s just an uncommon name.
What is the story behind Joaquin?
Just that I thought it was a cool name! Everyone knows Joaquin Phoenix, of course, which is a really badass name too. Our daughters have more romantic middle names — Adele Gianna and Margot Anaís — more flowery than what I would use for a first name because we have a long last name. Joaquin sounded romantic and fit the profile of his sisters’ middle names.
Their middle names all have more significance. Gianna means “the Lord is gracious,” Anaís means “grace,” and Joaquin means “God will judge.” I like that they all have spiritual significance to them.
Tell me about the moment you knew you found “The One”
Sometimes I text Roberto random first and middle name combinations. One day I texted “Mercer Joaquin,” and he was like, “Hmm, okay. That sounds cool.” I like Joaquin as a name, but as an English speaker, I was worried about pronunciation issues. I know that can be common with some Spanish names. But as a middle name, it’s not used as often.
A few days later, Roberto texted me and said “I told so-and-so that the baby’s name is Mercer Joaquin.” I was like, “You did? That’s the baby’s name?” I liked it, but I didn’t know it was decided! He said, “It is. That’s the baby’s name.”
It was solidified once he said it out loud. It felt right.
What were the other names on your list?
My top contender was Lars. I love it. Everybody knows it, nobody uses it. At least in the United States, it’s not very common. My husband wouldn’t go for it because it was too Scandinavian. Our other contender was Roman. It just didn’t feel right to me — I don’t know why. I was okay with it, but I didn’t really love it. I think it was because it’s so popular. I don’t know any Romans, but I’m aware that it’s in the Top 100.
It’s such a difficult sweet spot. When we named Margot three years ago, I wasn’t expecting it to be as popular as it is now. But I wouldn’t change it because it fits her.
With Mercer, we weren’t expecting it to be received as unusual. More often than not, I’ve had people be like, “So where did you get Mercer?” I wasn’t prepared for that question, I guess because you don’t meet Mercers, but in my mind, it didn’t feel unusual. But not everyone is reading baby name blogs all the time!
How did people react to Mercer?
Most people are like, “Oh, where did you get that?” or “Is that a family name?” which I feel are polite ways to say, “that’s a weird name.” It’s usually people in certain age ranges who respond that way.
I didn’t name my child Moon Unit! I’m not Frank Zappa! Sometimes it just feels like that’s the response I get. But people in their 20s, 30s, or anyone who’s a name nerd is like, “That’s a cool name!”
Did Adele and Margot have any suggestions for the baby’s name?
We love Nacho Libre, and for a while, the younger one said the baby’s name was Chancho, which is the name of the kid in the movie. It means “pig” in Spanish. She kept saying, “Chancho! Baby Chancho!” Nope!
My older daughter Adele would come up with suggestions that were nonsensical words, like Fluffy. Sometimes things that weren’t even words, so no serious suggestions. Chancho was the most notable one.
Did you talk about the baby name with anyone else before he was born?
If people asked what we were naming the baby, we would tell them. But it wasn’t a discussion — I wasn’t asking for feedback. I felt like I knew what I wanted to name my child and I didn’t want to hear everybody else’s opinions and associations.
We learned from having previous children that you don’t really need to invite a discussion about it. It was our baby and we got to choose the name. Unless of course. it was something where I needed to be mindful of initials looking weird or really negative connotations.
For the most part we’d say, “We decided it’s Mercer Joaquin.” If I had some names I liked and somebody asked, I’d say, “I really like Lars,” without saying that was the baby’s name.
This strategy worked well for us. I didn’t want to keep it a secret because I’m not good at that. And when my friends have babies, I’m like, “Oh! What are you going to name it?” It’s exciting! But I wanted to be more assertive, so people knew it wasn’t open for their input.
How did naming a baby in two languages influence the process?
It was most important to me that any name we chose sounded very similar in both English and in Spanish, and while this complicated the process, it helped narrow it down instantly. Almost all H and J names were automatically ruled out because the sound is totally different in Spanish, and then of course there are other names that I really like in English but their Spanish counterparts? Not so much. For example, Rupert becomes Ruperto (ru-PEAR-toe) and Moses becomes Moises (mow-EE-says).
With our daughters, we found that French baby names worked well in both English and Spanish and so I then narrowed my focus to primarily French names. I read and reread the most popular French names list and went down a deep rabbit hole of top baby names in various French provinces and towns.
What would Mercer have been named if he was a girl?
Inez Callista. Again, Ines is a name that's quite popular in France and familiar but not popular in the United States. We would most likely use the Spanish spelling with a Z. Callista fits our pattern of using more romantic names in the middle spot.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
How difficult it was! My husband and I have a much harder time choosing boy names because our tastes are so different for boys. He likes strong, masculine names whereas I prefer strong but gentle names. I often think it's good that we had two girls first because it took three pregnancies for us to find a boy name that we both liked.
What advice would you give to someone just starting the baby name process?
Keep a running list, even if you're not pregnant. You never know when you'll come back to a name and find that it feels just right. Mercer has been on my list for the past three-plus years and we kept returning to it. I also like to envision how all of our kids' names would look together on a Christmas card as a sort of litmus test. Do they look good together and also stand well alone?
And lastly, if you're looking for that unicorn of a baby name, look in obscure places and read a variety of name blogs. I used Appellation Mountain's Sunday Summary posts for this regularly because she does the heavy lifting of finding interesting name posts and having them available in one place to peruse.
Thank you so much, Allison!