Most moms know that baby name theft is a heinous crime; Stealing someone’s husband is almost more socially acceptable.
That’s why when my best friend and I were discussing my soon-to-be first child years ago, I avoided mentioning my preference for the simple reason that she already had a toddler named Olivia.
I’ve always loved that name and I’m clearly not alone as it recently topped the list of the country’s favorite female baby names for the sixth year in a row.
So, do I have my own Olivia now? Well, but it was quite a detour to get there…
Helena Frith-Powell explains how it took her a year to change her daughter’s name from Holly to Olivia (pictured)
Initially, my friend Shannon had joked about how toe-curly she would find it if I copied the name, so I spent my pregnancy wrestling knowing it was off limits. The situation got worse because I had chosen her, a doctor, as my birth partner. (My husband showed about as much interest in the whole process as our cat.)
Looking back, it seems ridiculous, but as I sat in Shannon’s car on the way to the hospital, trying to breathe through my contractions, I still couldn’t tell her. Although I was desperate for a girl, I almost started hoping for a boy. Then at least I could call him Oliver.
My husband Rupert couldn’t see what the problem was. He also liked the name Olivia and was utterly perplexed. “Ask her,” he kept telling me. But I couldn’t. “You’re a man,” I told him. “You wouldn’t understand.”
I struggled with the moral dilemma for days and out of cowardice we bottled it up and decided to find another name.
Our baby was six days old when my husband and I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s and settled on Holly after Holly Golightly, the character played by Audrey Hepburn. It did not go down well with Italian relations. The Swedes were nicer about it, but I don’t think anyone was overly enamored. I least.
When Holly was just over a year old, we moved to France and there the effects of my weakness really hit me. Holly is pronounced “au lit” in French, which means “to bed.” Not a great name for anyone, let alone a little girl trying to fit in. I had never felt comfortable with Holly. Every time I started to get annoyed, I would remind myself of Holly Golightly, but as one helpful friend put it, “You should have just called her Audrey.”
Helen pictured with her daughter, Olivia now 23. Olivia is known to everyone as Olive
Rupert also started to complain after one of his cycling buddies almost fell off his bike laughing at ‘au lit’.
I had enough of it. We had been in France for about four months when I went online one evening and, as Rupert urged me on, did something I’d been thinking about for weeks: I officially changed our daughter’s name to Olivia Holly Sintra through a poll.
It took about three minutes online. I have completed a form and paid a fee of £60. There were a few administrative tasks, such as getting a new passport when the time came, but all I had to do was show the ballot.
The reactions of friends and family varied widely. Italian relations were delighted. They, like the French, could never have pronounced Holly in the first place.
However, some of the English contingent was a little surprised to say the least. One friend went so far as to suggest it was akin to erasing Holly’s existence.
Another godparent refused to name her anything other than Holly. But most of them understood the rationale behind the change when we explained that it had to do with our move to France (I didn’t dwell on my previous weakness) and were quite optimistic.
As for Shannon, she and I lost touch after we both moved out, which meant I never had to have that conversation.
The worst moment for me was when Olivia, then six years old, marched up to me, a personalized baby book in her hand, demanding to know who “Holly” was, as if I had hidden a secret sibling from her. We hadn’t mentioned the name change to her; she was just too young.
Her dear French nanny had continued to call her “Ollie” (which worked for Holly as well as a nickname for Olivia) and she had a nickname in the family anyway.
But that day I had to stop everything I was doing and explain the whole saga. That’s when I started imagining what an “actually, you’re adopted” conversation might feel like.
Olivia took it well, in fact she called herself Olive anyway, so she didn’t really see the difference.
She is now 23 and still known to everyone as Olive. Olivia is only for people she doesn’t like or when she’s in trouble!