Mindy Kaling Reveals the Sweet (and Subtle!) Hollywood Inspiration Behind Her Children's Names

The mother of two also opens up to PEOPLE about adopting more healthy habits: "What I've learned is you have to involve your kids and they have to see you do that kind of stuff, otherwise they won't start doing it"

Motherhood has given Mindy Kaling a new outlook on health and wellness.

"Before I had kids, I wouldn't even say I was someone who really thought about wellness," Kaling, 41, tells PEOPLE exclusively for this week's issue. "And then when I was pregnant during COVID, I was like, 'Oh, this is something that I really need to care about a lot.' Now that I'm responsible for two other people, I really had to change my attitude."

The Mindy Project star welcomed son Spencer Avu in September, shocking fans with the news during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in October. She is also mom to 3-year-old daughter Katherine Swati.

When it came to choosing her children's names, part of Kaling's decision came from paying homage to the "incredible" Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy while also wanting to stay away from the more unique choices of some of her Hollywood peers.

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Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Hulton Archive/Getty

"I don't trust my own judgment with those kinds of names," she admits. "If I name my son River, that connotes a certain kind of person who is very go with the flow, artsy. But what if he's not like that at all? Will he be furious with me?"

"I just tried to pick classic names that felt like they would have to work really hard to get mad at me about later," Kaling says, with a laugh.

With baby Spencer still in "that pre-baby blob stage," Kaling says she has yet to notice any major differences in having a son compared to having a daughter.

Mindy Kaling/Instagram.

That said, there has been one change that the actress has had to adjust to: clothing selection.

"As someone who loves baby clothes, the options for boys are really the pits compared to girls," she says. "With girls, they can be sporty, they can be princess-y, they can be so many different things. But for a boy, you can only dress them like a Waspy 40-year-old wearing an anchor T-shirt, like Robert Redford in 1972."

Like countless other parents, the Never Have I Ever creator has been faced with a unique set of challenges as she raises her children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While she did bring back her "wonderful" baby nurse Rose for "her great theories and tireless energy with a crying newborn," adding the role of teacher to Kaling's already-extensive resumé has been a bit of a challenge.

"Honestly, the hardest part is entertaining them," she says. "My daughter is going to preschool on Zoom and having sat with her through those Zooms and having gotten the curriculum that I was supposed to be teaching her at home, teachers should get paid like a billion dollars a week!"

"It's hard enough to just teach in an effective way, but then to do it with these tiny children and keep them entertained — forget it! I think every mother who works is having the same realization through the pandemic that teachers should get paid like six figures," she adds.

With her hands full with two little ones, Kaling has teamed up with Walgreens to launch their new myWalgreens program, a one-of-a-kind personalized wellness experience that makes saving, shopping and well-being easier.

"The myWalgreens app is really suited uniquely to me because I'm a huge hypochondriac," she admits. "Amid the pandemic, I can pick up my cough and cold medicines, I can order it all on my phone, plus diapers for my newborn and toys for my daughter, and then someone with a mask on brings it to me curbside."

"I'm a single mom, so it's incredibly convenient to do that on my phone, and easy for me given my jobs and my baby and my older kid," adds Kaling.

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Raising her kids alone, Kaling says she wants to "set an example" for her them in healthier ways than she was raised.

"My parents were immigrants and so when we were growing up, it was like getting us to school, getting us our lunches, and picking us up since they both worked," she explains. "We didn't have a nanny, we didn't have babysitters or anything, and so there was no emphasis really on exercise."

"What I've learned is you have to involve your kids and they have to see you do that kind of stuff, otherwise they won't start doing it," Kaling adds.

"I didn't start exercising until I was like 24 years old because I never saw my mom or my dad do it," she says. "It's setting an example for them, forcing myself to drink a lot of water and eat salads so that it normalizes them, because that wasn't something that was a part of my childhood at all."

Now, with Christmas and New Year's just around the corner, Kaling recalls getting a bit too ambitious with her Thanksgiving meal — something she doesn't want to do again in the future.

"I had both my kids to myself and because our little pandemic pod of my dad and my stepmother were coming over, I really wanted to 'wow' them with a dinner that was like any other year, like it wasn't the pandemic and I didn't have two kids," Kaling explains. "I wanted this eight course meal, doing it with no help. I could only do it when my daughter was napping and I was so stressed about it. And it wasn't until I was doing dishes after it was done where I was like, 'My dad and my stepmom literally don't care, why did I do that?!'"

"There is no world court that's like, 'You're amazing, great work on that eight course meal.' No one's expecting it," she continues. "But I just felt like I wanted the mythology of Mindy Kaling to be that like, 'Oh man, even in the pandemic, she's still pulled out that eight course meal.'"

Adds Kaling: "That doesn't sound like a normal person. That doesn't sound like a cool person. That sounds like a weird striver."

And moving forward, "I kind of feel like I've learned not to do that kind of thing again."

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