Q. I recently started working for an institution founded on the values of the Sisters of Mercy. I am working on our magazine, and I’d truly appreciate your skilled recommendation on whether or not to capitalize the word mercy in various tricky/gray areas. For example, we know mercy should be lowercase when used in the generic sense, as in “he begged for mercy” or “at the mercy of the court,” and capitalized when used in a proper name, as in Mount Mercy University or Mercy Hospital. The trick is in situations like “a mercy education,” “a mercy institution,” or “providing mercy care.” We are looking through many guides and checking with other mercy institutions to figure out best practice, but I would love a CMOS ruling!
A. You could try mentally substituting the name Sisters of Mercy when considering whether you mean the institution and its specific tenets or the more generic (lowercased) term. If it makes sense to use Sisters of Mercy, uppercase Mercy. For instance, does “mercy care” involve specific practices outlined by the Sisters of Mercy, or is it a kind of merciful care that anyone could provide?
You and your team see gray areas because you conflate your institution’s name and brand with one of its values. Anyone outside your perspective can easily see that “a mercy education” makes little sense. A professional editor could help you and your team put together a style guide with sample sentences and guidelines.