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