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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69 Comments

vinman63 31 months ago
My bffs are Robin A female and her husband Brooke
EvelynCRaymond 31 months ago
So sad to hear of the passing of yet another Monkee. There first album was the first music album I ever bought and I remember that time in my life with much joy. Michael Nesmith with a truly talented musician and his loss with be felt by so many.
Nala92129 32 months 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 32 months 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 32 months ago
Sydney has always been a traditional Welsh girls' name.
KJExpress 32 months 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.
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Nala92129 vinman63 32 months ago
One of my pet peeves!
Coldnorth KJExpress 32 months ago
I have a female friend named Michael and she named her son Michael
AnnieM vinman63 31 months ago
That is the absolute worst - And I sometimes wonder if they are *trying* to be cutesy or clever with their weird spelling, or are they just that grammatically inept? 🙄
MrsPhilHarris 32 months 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.
Dina MrsPhilHarris 6 months ago
I wonder if she came up with a new story each time she was asked?
MrsPhilHarris Dina 6 months ago
Probably. 🤭
RobertM 32 months 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 32 months ago
Interesting story. I would not name my daughter a boy's name or my son a girl's name sorry about that.
texasluva 32 months 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 32 months ago
I like your Bugs avatar.
justjeff 32 months ago
"My name is Sue... How do you do? And you're gonna die!".... Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue"
vinman63 justjeff 32 months ago
A Boy Named Sue only because the father wanted his son to know how to kick A$$
MrsPhilHarris 32 months ago
I’m no quite sure how the parents came up with the name Michael whilst watching a child wash her feet. 🤔
harlow1313 MrsPhilHarris 32 months ago
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 32 months ago
Well, it appears to have been easier than being a boy named Sue (How do you do?).
LoveMETV22 32 months 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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justjeff LoveMETV22 32 months ago
Let's not forget that John Wayne's given name was Marion Michael Morrison...
rycki1138 LoveMETV22 32 months ago
There's actress Michael Michele (real name Michael Michele Williams), who was on ER and more recently the remake of Dynasty.
vinman63 justjeff 31 months ago
Davie Bowie because a Monkee was Davy Jones.
Coldnorth LoveMETV22 6 months ago
Like I said way up there, I have a female friend named Michael and named her son Michael
Runeshaper 32 months ago
I'm sure it wasn't easy with that name, but that didn't stop her from making something of herself! (-:
KJExpress 32 months ago
I can only wonder what sort of names they might have given to sons. 🤔
Zip KJExpress 32 months ago
If the sons were intelligent maybe they could call them "Book" or "Very"
Learned.

Ok, that's bad.
KJExpress 32 months ago
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KJExpress 32 months ago
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Zip 32 months ago
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KJExpress stephaniestavr5 32 months ago
I have to chuckle. You've just mentioned my first and middle names. 😉
vinman63 KJExpress 31 months ago
Michelle
WordsmithWorks 32 months 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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country46 WordsmithWorks 32 months ago
I bet it also made her stronger it's probably hard to overcome at an early stage in life
vinman63 country46 32 months ago
If it bothered her she could have chosen an acting name.
robyni23 Michael 32 months 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.
This is a serious question…. What is the difference between teasing and bullying. I believe it’s a fine line
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