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How my son Peter Doocy was almost named after a city in Tennessee

Editor’s note: Steve and Kathy Doocy’s brand new “The Simply Happy Cookbook,” is not only a filled with easy, delicious, stress-free recipes—it’s also a family memoir with heartwarming and sometimes hilarious stories. Here’s one of them…

With each of our cookbooks we try to keep the names of our recipes simple, so that as soon as you read them you’ll have a pretty good idea what ingredients are involved. Creamy Crusted Horseradish Salmon leaves little to the imagination. However, our Dental Hygienist Pot Roast from our first cookbook might have confused some home cooks.

So names are important to us, but of course the toughest decisions were what to call our kids. Before Kathy and I got married, she was friends with a very famous movie star who shall remain nameless (unless you ask me after I’ve had a few drinks), and they named their kids after important figures from literary history.

When we found out Kathy was pregnant with our first child—the one who’s now a very famous White House correspondent—we started searching for the perfect name. 

As first-time parents, we wanted to make sure his name said something about him and something about us. 

Given her movie star pal who had dramatic, poetic, thought-provoking names, the bar was high and high-minded. The pressure was on Kathy to come up with a doozy for young Doocy, so we started with literary figures.


When I suggested F. Scott Doocy, she gave me that look—Why didn’t I marry that guy from “St. Elsewhere”?

She wanted dramatic, but I (not so) secretly wanted our children to have funny names. I had the track record that proved it; up until that point the only thing I’d ever named was a cat, which I dubbed G. Gordon Kitty.

Kathy wasn’t sold on funny, so rather than considering actual names used by people, we started contemplating things or places that could be a name. Watching a fashion show on TV, we briefly pondered Taffeta, Velvet, and Flannel. “Nobody would ever label a kid anything close to a textile,” I pronounced—until Michael Jackson dubbed his child Blanket.

Our trip down Fashion Avenue was re-placed by a drive down actual street names. Madison was a contender for a couple blocks. Suddenly we were searching for a location-based name, when we stumbled on a magnificent moniker we 100 percent agreed would be our child’s name:


I know you’re thinking we must have had a radon leak at our house, so let me explain. In addition to being the name of a great city on the banks of the Mississippi that’s known for music and Graceland, Memphis is also a name from Greek mythology. But what sold us on the name was that this was the 1980s, and “Memphis” was the name of a popular design movement from Italy. 

The Memphis style was characterized by colors and shapes that were bold, unconventional, playful. Bold, unconventional, playful . . . just what we wanted our baby to be! They would be the only Memphis in their homeroom, and we loved it. 

Memphis was just perfect, until reality—also known as my mother—weighed in.

“Stephen, you’ve never even been to Memphis!” Her urgent, pleading voice suggested that I might be day-drinking.

Memphis is in Tennessee and you’re from Kansas. How does Topeka Doocy sound?”

“Well . . .” I tried to buy a little time, but my mother was done. “It’s a dumb name, Stephen. Or should I call you Wichita?”


Kathy could tell from my side of the conversation that it was time for a backup plan—and we did have a runner-up. 

Early in Kathy’s pregnancy a once-in-a-lifetime event occurred— Halley’s Comet returned to the vicinity of Earth. It was literally a cosmic sign from on high—we agreed after about thirty seconds of consider- ation that our firstborn’s name would be Halley Doocy. Period, done, print the announcements.

A few months later Kathy and I leaned in to look at a small black and white monitor in a darkened room, examining very grainy blobs that the doctor assured us were parts of somebody we were related to. 

“There’s the heartbeat,” the doctor said, pointing at something fluttering, and then, “That’s one foot, and there’s the other.” And then he announced, “Kathy, call Sherwin-Williams for blue paint—your baby is a boy!”

Suddenly Halley—which is a perfectly good name for a girl and a comet—flamed out. We bought the paint, and because time was getting short, we wound up doing what so many parents do—we went with a name that was simple and safe and saintly. 16 hours of labor, our first child was born—and promptly named after Saint Peter.

A few years later, our first daughter was christened after Saint Mary. 

Finally, shortly after Kathy learned she was pregnant with our third, I suggested that we should name the baby after Saint Paul. Kathy liked the idea and talked it through: “Peter, Mary, and Paul.” She paused and reordered them. “Wait . . . you want to name your kids Peter, Paul, and Mary?”

I explained why it was a brilliant and hilarious choice: “And if the baby is a girl, the kids would be Peter, Paula, and Mary.” A joke— inside a joke—I loved it!

“We are not naming three children after the ‘Puff the Magic Dragon ’people!”


A few weeks later, only four months into the pregnancy, Kathy called me at work. She was heading to the hospital, having gone into premature labor—at sixteen weeks. I rushed and met her there.

“Those are some giant contractions,” the emergency room doctor announced. He then terrified us by saying, “Kathy, you’re dilated . . . at a four.”

I wasn’t a doctor but I knew that was very bad; she was only four months into a nine-month pregnancy. Kathy’s ob-gyn arrived and took over her care. The immediate worry was that the baby would be born that day—with few organs fully developed, and weighing less than a pound, the chances for survival were tiny. It was one of those days in your life when your whole prayer was simply God—help the baby.

The doctor ordered a series of IV medicines, and I sat there for hours holding Kathy’s hand until hours of that drip drip drip finally stabilized her. The doctor’s diagnosis was bleak; for the next five months Kathy was on 100 percent bed rest. 

They outfitted her with a contraction monitor that we would hook up to our home phone line at the end of every day, so I could transmit the day’s contractions and they could adjust her medicine. She went home that night, but before we left, the doctor asked to speak to Peter and Mary, who were in the waiting room with a babysitter.

The doctor, who was excellent, explained to three-year-old Mary and five-year-old Peter that their mom was going to have to be in her bedroom for a long time, and they could not ask for anything. 

The doctor explained that if they needed anything, first ask their dad, if he was home. Otherwise, they would have to do everything by themselves—something our kids were not accustomed to.

To their credit, Peter and Mary pitched in and did what was asked of them. I raced home from work in Washington, D.C., very early every day to keep things afloat, cooking, cleaning, nursing Kathy, and playing with the kids. 


One afternoon Mary asked me if I’d carry her Little Tykes car down the outside deck stairs, which I’d done a million times—and as I was halfway down the staircase a hornet buried its stinger in the back of my calf. It felt like I was being stabbed by a red-hot needle. 

Reflexively I twisted to swat it away—but in that move I lost the grip on the car and then my balance and promptly fell down ten stairs—breaking the fall with my outstretched foot . . . that I watched in slow motion bend backward.

For a few seconds I was in shock—and then a wave of pain hit me like I’d never felt before.

Peter was first on the scene, “Dad, do you want the boo-boo bear?” The boo-boo bear was a cold pack we kept in the freezer for the kid’s minor injuries. This was way past the boo-boo bear’s pay grade. 

Gritting my teeth and writhing in terrible pain, I contemplated my next move. It was the only option. I calmly instructed him, “Go get Mommy.”

Kathy had not been outside in a month. She tried to get me up on my feet but I couldn’t stand, so she and Peter got a wagon, and like a big broken toy, they dragged me to the driveway, where I pulled myself into the car and drove to the emergency room. 

Kathy went back to bed and the kids took care of her. 

At the ER a series of X-rays revealed that half a dozen tiny little bones in my foot were broken into tiny little pieces, and nearly all the soft tissue and ligaments in that part of me were pulled clean off the bone. They gave me a shot, some pills, a cast, and some crutches and I went home and made dinner.

The next day we had to go to the grocery store. Peter pushed the cart and Mary grabbed the groceries; they were like tiny Instacart shoppers with a cranky and slow-moving supervisor shadowing them on crutches. 


At the checkout, with my leg throbbing, I discovered that Mary and Peter had put pretty much every food they’d ever desired in the cart—and I could not have cared less. 

I had bigger fish to fry—literally. Peter had selected Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks for dinner, and at that moment they were in a bag, slowly thawing.

Over the next five months, I recovered from my injury and Kathy’s pregnancy continued. We all held our breath, praying that Kathy’s body and the baby inside would figure a way to make it across the finish line.

At the end of July, after the longest eight and a half months of our lives, our baby was born at a very healthy seven pounds. She was absolutely perfect. She cried when she emerged, and so did we.

We didn’t discuss a name in those final months of the pregnancy, just in case. Although one night after we watched the movie “Dennis the Menace,” Peter suggested we name her Mr. Wilson. He was kidding, we think.

Our last born has the notoriety of being our only child not named after a saint—but she is an absolute gift from God. We named her Sally because we liked the name and she looked like a Sally.

After we got home with Sally, Kathy resumed all her mom jobs—chauffeur, chef, family COO—and I went back to work. 

Ten months later, the week before Mother’s Day, I was at the Tysons Corner mall outside Washington, D.C., at the very fancy Tiffany & Co., to have a silver heart bracelet engraved commemorating our three kids. The sales associate said the bracelet was too small to engrave whole names and suggested using the kids ’initials, which I thought would be just fine.

With a pad and pencil she asked for their names—in order. Slowly I announced “Peter” and she put down a P, I said “Mary” and she wrote an M. Then I said “Sally” and she scrawled an S. The clerk paused, reviewed her work, and immediately glared at me. “That spells PMS.”

This was news to me!

“Are you sure you want your wife wearing a bracelet that says PMS?” I nodded.

She clearly thought this was a terrible idea. “Sir, do you even know what PMS means?” “I do,” I said with a wry smile. “It means I gave my kids funny names after all.”

Adapted from Steve & Kathy’s “The Simply Happy Cookbook.” To order your copy click this link. Used with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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