‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Discussed Origins of Her Unusual Name

by Taylor Cunningham

During an archived interview, The Waltons star Michael Learned revealed the origins of her unusual name.

When Michael Learned’s parents, Elizabeth and Bruce, were on their honeymoon, they were ready to start talking about babies. The newlyweds wanted a large family, and they would eventually fulfill that wish by having six children—all girls.

While speaking with The Press-Telegram in 1972, Michael Learned, otherwise known as Olivia from The Waltons, said that her unusual name was chosen long before she was even conceived. While her parents were visiting Italy during their honeymoon, they agreed that a future daughter ought to be named Michael.

“They were in Venice, sitting on the beach, on their honeymoon. And they saw a little Italian girl washing her feet under a faucet,” Michael shared. “First, she’d wash one foot, then she’d put it down and get sand on it again as she washed the other.”

Seeing the little girl made Bruce and Elizabeth imagine having one of their own. And they named their future girl on the spot.

“My parents decided at that moment that if they ever had a little girl, they’d call her Michael,” 

After having Michael, the Landon’s decided that all of their daughters should have unique names. And they followed through with that plan for all but one of their children. Micheal’s sisters were named Gretl, Sabra, Dorit, Philippa, and Susan. Susan was one of the most common girl names of her time. And Michael had no idea where it came from.

“My father liked unusual names,” Michael continued. “He always wanted everything to be different — he wanted us to be different.”

When Michael was a child, she went by Mike. And as she grew up, her friends and classmates didn’t seem to notice that she had an uncommon name. It was the adults who would make rude comments that made Michael feel self-conscious.

“Adults would usually do a big double-take,” Michael 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.”

‘The Waltons’ Star Richard Thomas Recalled His Final Interaction with Earl Hamner

Richard Thomas’s Hollywood career was on the right track before he landed the role of John-Boy on The Waltons. But the series turned him into a full-on celebrity. And it was all thanks to The Walton’s showrunner Earl Hamner Jr.

After watching a young Thomas play the lead in Red Sky Morning, Hamner knew the actor had to star in his soon-to-be hit show. And the rest is history.

Hamner and Thomas built a strong friendship that lasted until Hamner’s death on March 24, 2016. And in an interview with Blue Ridge Life Magazine, Thomas remembered the final time he heard from Hamner.

“No I don’t,” he said. “I’m trying to remember. You know, it’s been a while. We exchanged letters because, you know, I don’t get to the West Coast very often. So it’s been several years since we actually saw each other. We exchanged emails. I got a lovely one just a few months before he passed away.”