If you didn’t cry your eyes out in the middle of English class after Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling of Channel One News announced that your favorite actor was dead, maybe the news of what Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix named their baby boy doesn’t quite take you back into a deeply emotional flashback. At the very least, you can probably appreciate that the two actors’ choice of baby names is a beautiful gesture honoring the brother Phoenix lost nearly 27 years ago.
Mara and Phoenix have reportedly named their son River Phoenix, according to a rather roundabout news source: Victor Kossakovsky, the director of the documentary Gunda, which Joaquin Phoenix co-produced, answering a Q&A after a screening at the Zurich Film Festival.
“He just got a baby, by the way, his name was … a beautiful son called River, so he cannot promote it now,” Kossakovsky said. Judging by Twitter, I’m sure I speak for a lot of Gen Xers when I say that I really, really hope this is true.
Joaquin Phoenix named his new baby boy River. pic.twitter.com/0LlSd6hqQt
— devon sawa (@DevonESawa) September 28, 2020
Joaquin was just 19 when his brother died of an accidental drug overdose. In the past year, during interviews to promote Joker and during his Oscar acceptance speech, the actor spoke more and more about River’s impact on him.
“When I was 15 or 16 my brother River came home from work and he had a VHS copy of a movie called Raging Bull and he sat me down and made me watch it,” Phoenix said in a speech at the Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Gala in 2019. “And the next day he woke me up, and he made me watch it again. And he said, ‘You’re going to start acting again, this is what you’re going to do.’ He didn’t ask me, he told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life.”
The Mara-Phoenix baby joins a family of interesting baby-namers and self-namers. Mara’s given first name is Patricia, but she goes by Rooney, her mother’s maiden name. Joaquin began his acting career going by the name Leaf, which he chose himself to be more in line with three of his other siblings’ nature names: River, Rain, and Summer. Phoenix is also a name his parents made up after they left the Children of God cult and decided to rise again from the ashes like that mythical creature.
Joaquin isn’t the first Phoenix to honor his brother with a baby name. Sister Summer named her son (who’s now 16) Indiana, in a nod to River’s brief role as a young Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Sister Liberty Phoenix Lord also has a 13-year-old son named Rio.
Both Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix have yet to make any public announcement about their baby, and we suspect this very private couple will continue to keep mum family matters. Somehow, Mara’s sister Kate Mara and husband Jamie Bell have managed to keep their baby’s name secret for more than a year! We aging River fans will just have to be content with going down memory lane on our own.
Here are other unique celebrity baby names we love.