The Facts of Life alum, who now hosts MeTV's Collector's Call, recalls to Yahoo Entertainment being given the name during a family trip to Europe after she tried — and overindulged in — cannabis offerings at an Amsterdam coffee shop.
Whelchel — best known for portraying '80s TV icon Blair Warner — recalls backpacking across Europe with her family. In Amsterdam, they stayed in a hostel called Cocomama while they explored the city.
"We went to this coffee shop, which I didn't know that coffee shops weren't really coffee shops in Amsterdam," she says with a laugh about the businesses, where customers buy and smoke marijuana or eat cannabis-infused edibles. "We decided: OK, sure. We'll do that. We'll have some. When in Amsterdam!
"We ended up having some space cake because I tried to smoke a joint and I just coughed up a lung," the Texas native continues. "The owner of the cafe said ... 'Just eat a little bit,' but of course, my daughter Clancy [Cauble, 30] and I — and we were all adults, it should be noted — said: 'Well, I don't feel anything. I want some more.' We did the newbie mistake!"
Whelchel, who turns 60 this month, says they were left "paranoid," except for Clancy's then-boyfriend/now-husband JJ Orantes, "who was able to keep it together. I kept saying, 'If you can just get us back to Cocomama! Just get us back to Cocomama!'"
A week after their misadventure, Clancy and JJ became engaged in Paris and Whelchel told him, "'Well, you don't have to call me 'mom,' but I don't want you calling me Mrs. Cauble anymore, so think of a name.' So he decided to call me Cocomama to commemorate our wonderful — and horrible — experience together."
The name stuck — and has extended to the younger members of the family. She's now a smitten grandma of two and, yes, they call her Cocomama.
"We won't be telling the grandkids how the name originated for a while," the former child star, also from the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1970s, quips.
Whelchel's marriage to the father of her three children — also including son Tucker, 32, and daughter Haven, 31 — ended a decade ago and she found love again with Pete Harris, a Nashville psychologist. They were legally married in December 2019 with plans for a March 2020 wedding, but COVID interrupted. Their long-awaited reception will finally take place in July — and it is expected to be a fun-filled, family weekend with a nod to Survivor, the reality series she competed on in 2012 after her divorce as a personal challenge.
"It was going to be during COVID — and then of course we had to wait — and then my son was planning to get married, so we obviously didn't want to have competing weddings," she says.
As for what they have planned, "We're renting a big Airbnb in central California," with just family, "and we're having a game tournament," she says. "We are very competitive family. We love games. So we're having three days of about a dozen different games — and Survivor kind of obstacle course games as well — with a championship. Then we'll fit a celebration in there somewhere."
Whether it's an Amsterdam misadventure or a Survivor wedding reception, Whelchel says, "Well, I do love to experience life. Some [experiences] are more fun — and some are more scary — than others," she laughs. "But I'm always just glad that I live life as out loud as possible."
More of our conversation with Whelchel — reminiscing about The Facts of Life 35 years after it ended in May 1988 — can be found here.