Michael Learned's parents chose her unusual first name on their honeymoon
Only one of the family's six daughters had a common name for girls. Can you guess what name she had?
By the time The Waltons parents John and Olivia went on their honeymoon, it was 19 years into their marriage.
In the episode "The Honeymoon," we watch Olivia as she struggles to find joy building a sandcastle on a beach, too worried about the kids back home to focus on relaxing.
For Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton, her parents in the real world spent their honeymoon also thinking about their kids — only like most young couples, they were thinking about the future, not the present like poor Olivia.
Learned told The Press-Telegram in 1972 that it was on her parents’ honeymoon, while they were sitting on the beach like Olivia was, that they came up with their future daughter’s unusual first name.
"They were in Venice, sitting on the beach, on their honeymoon, and they saw a little Italian girl washing her feet under a faucet," Learned said. "First, she’d wash one foot, then she’d put it down and get sand on it again as she washed the other."
Watching the girl struggle, Learned’s parents began thinking about their future kids, including tossing around names.
"My parents decided at that moment that if they ever had a little girl they’d call her Michael," Learned said.
Then, when Learned was born in 1939, her parents followed through on their honeymoon dream, naming their first-born daughter Michael.
After Michael, her parents had five more daughters, and because her dad liked having a daughter with an uncommon name, he kept coming up with unique ideas for what to call each daughter.
"My father liked unusual names," Learned said. "He always wanted everything to be different — he wanted us to be different."
That’s why all of Michael’s sisters got unusual names you don’t hear every day — Gretl, Sabra, Dorit and Philippa — well, all of them except one.
For their third daughter, Learned’s parents chose one of the most common baby girl names of all time: Susan.
Learned said she wasn’t sure how the girl named Sue came about.
As a young girl, Michael, who went by Mike, said she never got teased by kids for having a boy name. It was the adults who made her feel a little weird about being a girl named Michael.
"Adults would usually do a big double-take," Learned said. "'Are you sure your name isn’t Michelle, little girl,' they would ask. They would make me feel guilty. I’d be totally crushed."