What’s in a name – Mercè, patron saint of Barcelona


Mercè on top of her own church, the ‘Esglesia de la Mare de Dèu de la Mercè’ (Plaça de la Mercè)

Mercè was named the patron saint of Barcelona by the city council in 1662, the year the virgin liberated the city of a plague of locusts, the legend says. More than two centuries later Pope Pio IX approved this decision. From that moment on her feast was celebrated, but things got really big when in 1902 Francesc Cambo, leader of the conservative Lliga Regionalista party, put his political weight behind it.

Benz was so in love with Barcelona that he gave his daughter the name of the city’s patron saint

Because of the growing popularity of Merced de los Cautivos (Merced of the Captives), a lot of Catalans began to have their newborn girls baptized as Mercè (Catalan) or Mercedes (Spanish). And not only they. A foreigner who frequented the city around that time was one Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929), German engineer and inventor of motorcars. Benz was so in love with Barcelona that he gave his daughter the name of the city’s patron saint. Sometime later he dedicated one of his cars to his daughter: Mercedes Benz.

Mr. Mercedes

That’s the story you can read in some guidebooks about Barcelona. In reality though, Mercedes was the daughter of Austrian businessman and diplomat Emil Jellinek. Adrienne Manuela Ramona the girl was officially named, but in the Jellinek family everybody called her Mercedes. Her father loved both her and racing, so when he started competing in car races, he used the pseudonym Mr. Mercedes. He even made a deal with his dealer, Daimler, based in Canstatt, Germany: the wealthy Jellinek promised to buy no less than 36 cars from Daimler, but they all had to bear the name Mercedes. ‘Let’s do it’, said Daimler. The company made 36 vehicles, all named ‘Daimler-Mercedes’.

merce 2017c

Emil Jellinek (1853-1918) with his daughter Mercedes.

Five of these Mercedes 35 hp cars did remarkably well in races around Nice in 1901. A year later Mercedes was a registered trademark. Emil Jellinek himself had his name changed to Emil Jellinek-Mercedes.

Karl Benz enters the story many years later, in 1926, the year that his company Benz & Cie merged with Daimler. The new company started producing cars with a new name: Mercedes Benz. Emil Jellinek died in 1918, 64 years old. His daughter Mercedes passed away in 1929, at the age of 38. What’s in a name?

merce 2017b

A Mercedes 35 hp during the Nice-La Turbie event in March 1901. The five cars set an average speed record of 51.4 km/h, breaking the previous record with 20 km. Maximum speed: 86 km/h, more than any car of that time.


What’s in a Name?

Mercè, (Mercedes in Spanish), comes from the latin mercedem, ‘price’ or ‘reward’. The root word though is the latin merx or mercari, which, some believe, derives from mercurius. Mercurius is the Roman God of trade, but also a mediator, necessary for the pax decorum  and, on a worldly level, the peaceful coexistence of cities.

%d bloggers like this: