Monday, December 9, 2013


Friends and acquaintances often ask me if I named my son Oliver because it's a popular name in Britain. In August, Oliver was one of Britain's top-ten names for boys, right after Harry. Harry? Who would name a kid Harry? Ah, that's right.

Prince Harry

So who would name a kid Oliver?

Well we did, way back in 2001 when Oliver wasn't a very popular name at all here in the U.S., and only a bit more so in the U.K. Here's the story: had we a daughter, her name was already picked out. We were going to name a daughter after my beloved paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cairns Forrest. Everyone thought I was going to have a girl in the early months of my pregnancy, even the Chinese doctor who was treating me with acupuncture for my 24/7 morning sickness and who assured me she'd never been wrong predicting a baby's sex. I, on the other hand, had a sneaking suspicion there was a boy baby jumping on my bladder.

An ultrasound around month five confirmed there would be no daughter named Elizabeth.

My husband and I spent months going back and forth on boys' names. It seemed he loathed every name I liked: Andrew. (Too common). William. (Too boring, too many nickname possibilities). James. ("Di, what is it with you and Scottish kings? Give it up!"). And then there were his names: Calvin. (Syllables didn't work with our last name.) Neal. (Eh.) I can't remember the rest, but nothing stuck. We thought about our father's names, but we were already using his father's middle name (another long story) for our son's middle name. As for my father's name, it's nice but I couldn't go there for personal reasons that have nothing to do with my dad, who's a great guy with a great name.

One hot late summer evening we were in bed with the baby name books and suddenly my husband said, "What about Oliver?" I was about to screech, "Oliver? OLIVER? Are you nuts? That's a terrible name!" But just then, the boy in my belly gave me a god-awful kick and I paused. I poked my tummy to get his attention and said to it, "Hey kid, what do you think of Oliver Sheldon?" And he gave me another almighty kick. So that was that. Today when Oliver complains about his name (which isn't very often, to be honest), I tell him, "We consulted and you approved."

Most people said they loved the name, except two members of our family. One I won't discuss here. The other was my mother, who has name issues because of her own moniker--Agnes. She insisted kids would make fun of him at school and call him
Ollie or Oliver North.

"Mom," I reasoned, "Kids in ten years won't know who Oliver North is. Kids today don't know who Oliver North is!" She was so upset over the name choice, she actually hung up on me! (She insists she didn't hang up on me, but I swear, she did.)

The night our son was born, nurses kept telling us, "He looks like an Oliver!" I still hear that today. I can't imagine Oliver being anyone but an Oliver, and no one has ever called him Ollie. Oliver is a name that's figured prominently in my ancestral family tree, and I love that its Norman roots come from the word for olive branch, signifying peace ... and for me, good food. ;-)

Last week he came home and said, "Hardly anyone at school calls me Oliver."

"Oh really?" I said.

"When I walk into class, everyone yells, 'Hey Ginger!'"

Thank God we didn't name him Harry.



  1. That was a great name picking story. And I come in on the side of the Oliver lovers. It's a great name. I can't believe your mom hung up on you! Karsten and Diana went through at least two dozen names before they chose Lucy, and a few of the ones they proposed were, in my humble opinion, Not Good. I refrained from expressing an opinion out of fear that would push them in the direction of picking that very name. I was greatly relieved when Lucy was chosen. Oh, one more thing. Oliver is a bit old-fashioned, and old-fashioned names are very popular right now. You were on the cutting edge of a trend. :-)

  2. Thank you, Kristie. I love love love the name Lucy and had I not already had my grandmother's name picked out, Lucy would have been a top contender. Helen and Alice are other favorites. The old-fashioned names are lovely, aren't they? I think you were smart not to say anything negative. Good call! I have to say, I bristled when the other family member I didn't write about had plenty to say. I had to bite my tongue from telling her to if she wanted to veto names, she should think about getting a pet. Meow.


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