Poppy Montgomery’s Blog: The Perils of Playing the Baby Name Game

07/14/2014 at 02:15 PM ET

Look who’s back (and pregnant!) — it’s Poppy Montgomery.

Best known for starring as Samantha Spade on Without a Trace, she’s back as Det. Carrie Wells for the third season of Unforgettable, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

The actress is expecting her second child — a boy! — with husband Shawn Sanford in the fall. The couple are already parents to daughter Violet Grace, 14 months.

Montgomery is also mother to son Jackson Phillip, 6½, from her previous relationship with Adam Kaufman, as well as stepmom to Braydon, 8, and Haley, 11.

She can be found on Twitter @PoppyMontgomery and Instagram @therealpoppymontgomery.

Poppy Montgomery Wedding Photo
Our Disney wedding photo! Jackson being held by his godfather, David, me, Shawn holding Violet, Braydon and Haley – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery

“…They say a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I have never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it were called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Since recently announcing that I am pregnant with my third baby, I have found people — all people, young, old, gay, straight, married, single … you name it — do the same three things with surprising consistency:

1. Try to rub my stomach in an unsettling personal manner, even if I just met them.

2. As they reach for my stomach, ask with an excited whisper, “Are you having a boy or a girl?!”

3. Upon learning my unborn baby’s sex (a boy! YAY!) they squeal in delight and then follow with the question that causes my chest to tighten in fear — “Have you picked out a name yet?”

A name. THE name. The name that my unborn son will carry with him for the rest of his life. What if I mess it up?

Poppy Montgomery Blog
Shawn and me at my shower for Violet – Rachel Shapiro

Six years ago I almost did mess it up with my oldest son, Jackson. Originally, he was going to be named simply Jack. Jack Kaufman was the name we had picked for him. A strong, simple name, but still edgy and cool.

It was the nickname of my favorite president, Jack Kennedy, not to mention my favorite actor, Jack Nicholson, and one of my favorite authors, Jack Kerouac.

We kept it to ourselves. Guarded it closely. We didn’t want other people’s opinions or name associations tainting it for us.

The big day arrives! All the (soon-to-be) grandparents meet us at the hospital for the impending birth of their first grandson. I beamed through the contractions, “Little Jack is on his way! I can’t wait to meet him.”

Grandpa Kaufman (Jackson’s grandfather on Adam’s side) stared at me for a moment and then said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You can’t call the kid Jack.”

“Why not?” I asked, annoyed and defiant. “It’s a wonderful name and the only one we like.”

He was incredulous. “You can’t name the kid Jack with a last name like Kaufman. Tomfoolery is what that is.”

“What are you talking about? I am about to give birth and I do not have another name picked out so spit it out, old man!”

He took my hands. “This is the greatest gift I will ever give my grandson,” he said with a little smile. Then simply, “I want you to say Jack Kaufman three times fast.”

I did it.

Jack very quickly became Jackson (try it yourself to see why!) and as it turns out, Jackson is the perfect name for him.

Poppy Montgomery blog
My mohawked little man – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery

“I shall call him Squishy and he shall be my Squishy. Come on Squishy, come on little Squishy.” — Dory, Finding Nemo

Growing up with the unusual name Poppy Petal has led me to the belief that deciding our children’s names is one of the most influencing things we do. This may sound trivial to some and many may disagree, arguing breastfeeding, diet, discipline, vaccinations — the list goes on and on.

However, it is my feeling that almost nothing (with the exception of a very bad laugh) can label a child for the rest of his or her life like a name. What might be fun and quirky initially (“I’m the mother of Pearl Button!”) might well be regretted when the child is older and goes to school.

“Cats don’t have names,” it said. “No?” said Coraline. “No,” said the cat. “Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are so we do not need names.” — Neil Gaiman, Coraline

My sixth birthday party. Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, leg warmers, pink balloons everywhere and the crowning glory of a small girl’s birthday party … THE BIRTHDAY CAKE!

Imagine my horror when, instead of the fuchsia pink Barbie doll cake I had been bragging about for weeks, a bright blue cake with a pipe and slippers made out of frosting was wheeled in.

Written in blue puffy frosting across the cake was, “Happy Birthday Dearest Poppy!” and it was topped with a marshmallow and toothpick creation that even my mother was unable to explain away.

My birthday cake had been made for a Poppy — a grandpa, a pop, a person who was lucky if he slept with his own teeth at night. Poppy! My name was not a flower at all! My name was what people called their grandfather!!! To a 6-year-old girl (me) this was a thing of horror!

Poppy Montgomery
Miss Violet Grace – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery

“Indeed, there is a woundy luck in names.” — Ben Johnson

Imagine introducing yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole, Hazel Nut or Richard (Dick) Head? Did a bad name help or hinder Australia’s ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? Little K Rudd. Krud. A crud is a large lump of poop that hangs from a sheep’s bottom and a good word if you want to call an annoying person a piece of poo.

And what of my poor friend Dick Woodcock? He has and always will be known as “Timber Dick.” Some names are a life sentence.

Are these simple mistakes or did these parents realize the implications? Could they have been influenced by Johnny Cash‘s astonishingly odd song “A Boy Named Sue?” … “Ya ought to thank me before I die / For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye…”

Toughen us up when we’re young and we might become president? Or can it cause lasting damage to young egos and turn potentially innocent Frank N. Stein into pathological serial killer Frankenstein?

“Letitia! What a name. Halfway between a salad and a sneeze.” — Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

My mind spins with it. Are names lost in translation? And what to do with names that become embarrassing in other countries?

My mom has a client named Chooi (pronounced chewy) Kok (pronounced cock). A perfectly fine name in her native China, but try introducing Chooi Kok as your guest speaker at a conference or convincing a cynical phone operator that you are not being a smart-ass, coarse or crude.

My friend’s sister, Annabel, in an attempt to reinvent herself, moved to a commune, became very hairy and changed her name to Lotah. She imagined, I think, that lotah was somehow related to the lotus flower — rising and blooming above the murky, muddy water to achieve enlightenment.

Whatever she thought, she was clearly unaware that lotah is, in fact, a vessel filled with water with which to wash after urination and/or defecation. Was it simply bad information from her fellow mushroom munchers or a deep need to search her soul for further edification and fulfillment?

Poppy Montgomery
My babies! – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery

“If my name was Richard, I’d go by Richard or Rich … not Dick. Hell, I’d even settle for being called Chard.” — Simone Elkeles, Rules of Attraction

My mom’s best friend has — instead of children — two Westmoreland terriers called (you be) Frank and (I’ll be) Ernest. My mom says that she, like them, is bad-mannered, eats too much and runs around in circles. Her name is Deb which, interestingly, spelled backwards is Bed and considering what a lazy lush she is, her name is more than appropriate.

Is this a case of a name perfectly suiting her? Or did she just grow into it? And what of her nasty little dogs???

“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” — John F. Kennedy

As I tuck my sweet baby Violet into her crib, I wonder if I have given her a name that will be an asset or put her at a disadvantage. Violet Grace. Violet the color of purpose, the blue violet flower symbolizes faithfulness and love, whilst Grace comes from the Latin “gratia” meaning God’s favor.

Will she grow up to resemble her beautiful namesakes? Dainty, slender, loving and whimsical? And what of our unborn son? Will he define his name or will his name define him?

Should we give our children a chance to develop their personality, talent and looks before saddling them with ill-fitting labels we cheerfully call names? What is a name anyway? Does it even matter?

To me the answer is yes, most definitely, yes. So much so that I needed help. A voice of reason to quiet the tsunami in my head.

Poppy Montgomery
Violet exercising her voice – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery

I asked my husband Shawn (always a wise, calming voice of reason to my neurosis) how to manage my name anxiety. No good decisions were ever made from a place of fear and I wanted to make the right one.

We came up with a system (feel free to use it if you are also struggling with the name game!) and it goes like this:

1. Keep it simple and honor the things you love. Our children’s names are a wonderful way to keep alive the memories of the people, places, things that have touched, comforted, moved and inspired us in our lives.

2. Make a list of your top three names and start using them now, BEFORE baby arrives. It’s similar to renting a house before you commit to buying it. Try it on for size. Yell it from the top of the stairs. Sing it in a lullaby.

If your love for it doesn’t diminish and the first one sticks, VOILA! If after a couple of weeks you can’t stand the sound of it, move on down the list. (We went through about 10 before we finally fell in love with Violet.)

3. Keep a sense of humor.

4. Follow Grandpa Kaufman’s advice and ALWAYS SAY BOTH NAMES TOGETHER THREE TIMES FAST!!!

– Poppy Montgomery

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Showing 43 comments

Brooke on

I laughed out loud at Jack Kaufman…..Great advice.

And Poppy – your children have BEAUTIFUL names. I have no doubt this little boy will as well.

merry on

What a beautiful big family! I wish Poppy best of luck and happiness.

(As English is not my native language, I don’t get the thing with Jack Kaufman).

Emma on

Cute article!

And @merry, the name sounds very similar to something that men do by themselves in private (and sometimes in public if they’re homeless or drunk). I certainly don’t think that I should say it here!

Ana on

Love this blog, since I am going through this right now! I have a list of about 5 names and have no clue which one is best.

It was so easy to choose a name for our first daughter, that I just assumed it would be easy again. I only have one month to figure it out.. what if she’s born and we still don’t have a name???

Max on

I thought we had found the perfect name with no possible nick names. My son is named Tristan then a daycare worker started calling him Trissy! Oh my!

Oranges on

Emma thank you for the reference! I do speak English as a first language and still didn’t get it until I read your reference. And yes, very good idea to go with Jackson instead!

Poppy congratulations – wishing you and your family the best!

TellItLikeItIs on

This blog reminds me of a few different examples. Poppy obviously has good folks around her to keep her from saddling her children with a name that could provide fodder for mean-spirited children and adults for a very long time. Kudos to her for being so open to advice!

My example: A very intelligent man whom I’ve had the opportunity to hear speak, who is very well regarded in his field, is named Richard Stroker. WHAT in the world were his parents thinking?!?!

Catherine on

Beautiful family! The new baby is lucky to have so many siblings. I’m sure whatever name they give him will be great. At least they’ve given it some thought. With some of these crazy names, you really have to wonder!

Anonymous on

My last name is Kok and it definitely limited us when choosing our children’s names! No Harry, Ivana, Hugh in this house ;)

Marisa Beatriz on

Grandpa Kaufman is amazing. That was genius and I probably would never have thought of it. Jack Kaufman would’ve been a name he could never live down.

Camie on

I used to read Poppy’s blog when I didn’t have any children. I’m now 6 months along with a boy, and it’s just so rad to see her posting again.

My husband and I are going over names right now, too. I’m 39 and this baby was a total surprise, so I don’t even know where to start.

AtlLady on

Also, keep the initials in mind.

Fortunately, I remembered my mother-in-law’s love of monogramming shirts and sweaters before it was too late.

Our last name starts with an S and we nearly named our son Anthony Stephen. I almost made an A$$ out of him with all the best intentions.

Teresa on

My grandmother’s name was Violet Grace. She was wonderful, talented, artsy and I miss her every single day. I wish she would have met my own children-Andrew (never Andy or Drew), Alana (named after my own dear friend Lana) and Erik (the ‘k’ is his claim to fame).

Best wishes Poppy on your growing family.

Jenny on

Violet is probably my #1 name if I ever have a girl! Great blog, very funny and great advice!

Morgan on

Yay! My favorite blogger is back! I think you’ve done marvelous naming so far! As a mother of two boys (Miles Lucas and Desmond Isaac, if you’re interested). I found it much harder to name a second child of the same gender. I had a hard time falling in love the second time the same way I did the first.

Good luck Poppy! Keep blogging please!!

Jennifer on

My last name is Chew, and my parents had the toughest time finding a name for me for the same reasons Poppy stated.

According to my parents, they went though countless of books trying to find a name for me because as it turns out I’m their only daughter. So my father settled on the name Jennifer because he named me after King Author’s wife in his favorite story. My name apparently is the New English version of Author’s name. I know what it is, but I can’t spell it.

He may have thought that he was being creative when giving me the name, but when I went to school growing up, I can’t tell you how many different Jennifers I went to school with. Which is why to this day, I have ALWAYS HATED my name!!! So it’s either parents get creative and give their kids have names like the one Poppy has, or you end up with one of the most common names around. It’s a real fine line.

jckfmsincty on

They really must like kids.

Sarah on

I’m oblivious to who Poppy is so I’m not sure why I clicked on this article, but I’m so glad I did. Best thing I’ve read on People in ages! #poppycock

Abbey on

This was a very fun blog post. I loved the book excerpts. Good luck! I am sure you will pick a wonderful name. I love the other two. :)

Kestrel on

We picked out names and said them over and over, nickname possibilities, initials, others with that name, etc.

I’ve also have a long last name to further burden us. I’m amazed at the names people make up. 95% of the time people talk about it later and say they don’t like it.

The Rule To Obey: no punctuation. Unless you are actually African, you just sound African and it looks insulting. There hasn’t been a kid name Qua’jee’lia that didn’t get eyerolls.

Emma on

Wow. Talk about making something much harder than it needs to be.

Anonymous on

If our third child had been a girl I really liked the name Hannah. Then I did the Initials thing. Our last name begins with an O. Her initials would have been HO. You know she would have felt the sting throughout her life. We parents do have a responsibility to think about these things. No Hannah’s in our house.

Anonymous on

Ooh happy family, good for her!

Alison on

@Kestrel – I agree on the punctuation thing. As a teacher, I see my fair share of horrid names. This last year, I had a K’yla.

Well, the poor girl had to continually remind me that her name was pronounced KAY-la, not KY-la. I’m sure she has spent the last 12 years doing the same thing with everyone around her. why do parents do that to their kids??? If you want a name to be “KAY-la”, spell it Kayla.

Katie on

My mom wanted my son to be named Jack so badly, but I told her I never wanted to use his name in a store or at the park and telling him to get off of something. This story made me laugh.

I’m a teacher and there are many first and last names that I have had over the years that have made me wonder if the parents did the combination deliberately or by accident.

shannon on

My husband and I had a hard time naming both of our kids. What he liked I didn’t and what I liked he didn’t. We took suggestions from family members and made a list.

We were going to name our son Harry Paul after both of our deceased fathers, but the more I thought about it, I realized that Harry was just not a name you hear anymore. And we just had too many Paul’s on both sides of the family. We decided on Nicholas Paul Harry. We eventually came up with Lindsay Shirley Louise for our daughter. Her middle names are for her grandmothers (mine deceased.)

JESS on

Our daughter is Maryjane… imagine how many times I’ve heard the pot head jokes. Doesn’t matter it a family name that we love. The only problem we have is telling people how to spell it 1 word…

If she had been a boy, the initials would’ve been BMM… my brother in law pointed out that would not work.

Go with meaningful names that you love.

Anonymous on

Poppy is really a lovely name, hope her second one is going to have an interesting name too.

Shelly on

I really like Poppy and her blog posts are so fun to read! This one in particular though, really struck a chord with me. My oldest son came to us through foster care and we literally only had a few days (from the time we even knew he existed!) to come up with his name. We totally stressed over it and ended up picking a name that we had never even thought of before, Ian. For a few years afterward, I still worried if we had picked the right name, but now that he is almost 6, I know that it truly fits him. His name means “gift from God” and he most certainly is!!!

Good luck to Poppy and Shawn on picking a good name. And FYI, we now have two more sons whose names are Mason and Logan :)

Angie on

his is a very fun post, though it sounds little too hard to find a right name and the reality is it shouldn’t be that hard.

Diane M on

I thought Anthony LaPaglia was Jackson’s godfather. I remember reading that after Jackson was born.. Who is David?

Ann on

This is a great post, so happy for Poppy’s family.

Tinseltown Mom on

Awww, what a beautiful family!

Alice on

I love the snark about the lush bff! The names are really nice but he’ll still be nicknamed Jack Kaufman…

Val on

Love those photos, and love the name Violet, she is adorable!

Deb on

I always disliked my name because it was too common so I named my daughters Shana Lee and Mani Suzanne, they both complain that they can’t find anything with their name on it.

Elizabeth on

I couldn’t agree more! I understand wanting to have your childs name be original and all, but you need to make sure you think it through in every aspect before giving them a quirky, ‘original’ name. I also think that you should spell it correctly, too. Because if you decide the spell it in some different way – you know that your child will have to spell it for the rest of their lives…every time, every place they go. So, Poppy this was the best advice ever! And I think your children are beautfiful, and so are their names!

Erika on

This was great! Very smart! I have named five children and although I love ALL their names, one of their names is a bit unusual – it is not a made up name, I promise. Anyway – I feel bad because NO ONE can pronounce her name, even after they hear it or see it written. It’s a short, one syllable name, too. When she was 2 years old, I got frustrated and even thought of changing her name. She goes by a nickname mostly now- and I still love her name, but I do feel a little bad for her. Oops!

Julie H. on

As the owner/author of a baby-naming website, I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. LOL’ed at the Jack-off-Man… hilarious. As Confucius said: “If names be not correct, then language is not in accordance with things.” Thank you for a great article. I shared it with my Facebook fans – all 30,000 of them!! ;-) Best wishes on your next name. Kindly, Julie (meaning: soft-haired and youthful). :-)

Karen on

This is why I made a point of checking initials, possible nicknames, and saying the full name before deciding my child’s name. Even the most beautiful name could become a headache to its bearer when they grow up.

My mother always said, ‘yell the name out your back door a few times, and see if you still love it.’ You’ll be doing that for years!

Karen on

Always look up the meaning! One of my favorite names is Claudia, but it means ‘lame’. As beautiful as the name was, I could not get past the meaning.

Irish on

I can find a flaw with any name! I’ve done it. Both my kids have flawless names tho. Even with the poster who said their kids’ names were Lindsay and Nicholas. Flimsy and Nickle-less?

Violet sounds like violence, and is spelled similar to toilet. I thought I liked Grace, but it sounds like Race with a G in front of it. And if you say it with a southern accent it almost sounds like grass. And if you say “Grace and” it sounds like Greyson.

Yea my hubby had a BLAST with me when naming our kids lol. I threw everything down. But…he was the same way. He didn’t like many at all! Amazingly, we agreed on both our kids’ names. Like it was meant to be.

Tonya on

What a great, fun blog! Loved reading this. Poppy, you’re a great writer! Loved all the quotes and especially the humor. Good luck on the birth of your third (and congratulations)! I’m sure his name will be wonderful, whatever you choose!

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