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."

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Nala92129 16 days ago
Give me a break! I can't think of any actors that use their real birth names or own up to their true ethnicity. It's very off-putting and dishonest.
Michael 19 days ago
There's always Sydney Poitier, the daughter. Thiugh I guess that spelling is used by other women.

Someone mentioned "Leslie", which can be both male and female.

I remember when Ally McBeal adopted "Madison", which I thought was taken from the movie Splash! But I've seen it since, for both sexes.

There are names like Michael that are rarely used for women. A larger group that can be used by both. And then somethat never get stereotyped, so useful for either.

Dina Michael 9 days ago
Sydney has always been a traditional Welsh girls' name.
KJExpress 19 days ago
I guess Michael isn't too bad when you consider names like Moon Unit or Apple or some other outlandish thing. At least it's an actual name.
UTZAAKE KJExpress 19 days ago
What most call outlandish, others consider creative.
cynthiaellen UTZAAKE 19 days ago
I don't particularly care what people name their child. What I don't like is when the person I am speaking to rolls their eyes when I can't pronounce it. Correct me and move on.
vinman63 cynthiaellen 19 days ago
Or taking a name like Caleb and spelling it Kaylahb.
KJExpress UTZAAKE 18 days ago
That's fair.
Nala92129 vinman63 16 days ago
One of my pet peeves!
Coldnorth KJExpress 14 days ago
I have a female friend named Michael and she named her son Michael
MrsPhilHarris 19 days ago
I heard another story told by her where she said when leaving the hospital her parents, who had yet to name their daughter, were asked to name the child. After waffling her father said Michael.
RobertM 19 days ago
Michael Learned must've started a trend--a female with a male first name--because there's an actress named Christopher Norris, who was a regular on "Trapper John, M.D.".
Andybandit 20 days ago
Interesting story. I would not name my daughter a boy's name or my son a girl's name sorry about that.
texasluva 20 days ago
TG my parents didn't name me Stacy (Stacy Keach); or Ashley (Ashley Wilkes) 🙄. Just Alan (Alan Ladd, Alan Rickman), (Alan Shepard) 😎. Or even worse like JJ below said 👉🏻Sue 😨.
KJExpress texasluva 19 days ago
I like your Bugs avatar.
justjeff 20 days ago
"My name is Sue... How do you do? And you're gonna die!".... Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue"
vinman63 justjeff 19 days ago
A Boy Named Sue only because the father wanted his son to know how to kick A$$
MrsPhilHarris 20 days ago
I’m no quite sure how the parents came up with the name Michael whilst watching a child wash her feet. 🤔
The preamble in the story didn't add any exposition. They could have just as easily been at the Automat in NY City, though it sounds less precious than Venice.
harlow1313 20 days ago
Well, it appears to have been easier than being a boy named Sue (How do you do?).
LoveMETV22 20 days ago
Certainly a unique choice . Don't think I have heard of any actresses or famous women with the first name Michael. I'm sure somewhere there is a woman with that first name. There are a number of gender neutral names though.
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LoveMETV22 LoveMETV22 19 days ago
PS- unusual and/or interchangeable names.
We can easily do a book on actor's real names. Each topic it sounds like, could fill up 2 volumes!
justjeff LoveMETV22 18 days ago
Let's not forget that John Wayne's given name was Marion Michael Morrison...
rycki1138 LoveMETV22 17 days ago
There's actress Michael Michele (real name Michael Michele Williams), who was on ER and more recently the remake of Dynasty.
Runeshaper 20 days ago
I'm sure it wasn't easy with that name, but that didn't stop her from making something of herself! (-:
KJExpress 21 days ago
I can only wonder what sort of names they might have given to sons. 🤔
Zip KJExpress 20 days ago
If the sons were intelligent maybe they could call them "Book" or "Very"

Ok, that's bad.
Michelle, {which is a popular male name in France as is Jean,} Kim, Leslie, t name a few.
Michelle, Jean,** {both of which are popular male names in France/Canada.} Kim, Leslie, Stacy, Carroll, just to name a few interchangeable names. Spelled **G-E-N-E, it could also be the spelling for a woman with that name. The only one I know of who spelled her name this way, is the actress Gene Tierney. I wonder if she got teased about the spelling of her name?
stephaniestavr5 Zip 19 days ago
Or "Lesson" Learned!
I have to chuckle. You've just mentioned my first and middle names. 😉
WordsmithWorks 21 days ago
I'm sure Michael really appreciated her parents giving her a traditionally male name. Especially when she was in grade school, where children are very kind and understanding.
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WordsmithWorks Michael 20 days ago
Sadly, you are correct on both counts.
I bet it also made her stronger it's probably hard to overcome at an early stage in life
vinman63 country46 19 days ago
If it bothered her she could have chosen an acting name.
robyni23 Michael 19 days ago
I went to high school with a Mikal. I know women who's names are Trevor, Morgan, Jordan, Ryan. My husband and son are Tracy Sr. and Tracy Jr. It was most unusual then, but not so much anymore.
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