Most mothers know that stealing baby names is a heinous crime; Stealing someone’s husband is almost more socially acceptable.
So when my best friend and I were discussing our upcoming first child years ago, I avoided mentioning my preferred choice for the simple reason that she already had a toddler named Olivia.
I’ve always loved this name and I’m clearly not alone as it recently topped the list of the most popular female baby names in the country for the sixth straight year.
So, do I have my very own Olivia now? Well yes, but it was quite a circuitous way to get there…
Helena Frith-Powell explains how it took her a year to change her daughter’s name from Holly to Olivia (pictured)
At first my friend Shannon joked about how great she would love it if I copied the name, so I spent my pregnancy dealing with the knowledge that it was taboo. The situation got worse because I chose her, a doctor, as my birth partner. (My husband showed about as much interest in the whole process as our cat.)
It seems ridiculous in retrospect, 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. In fact, although I was desperately looking for a girl, I was almost beginning to hope for a boy. Then at least I could call him Oliver.
My husband Rupert could not see the problem. He also loved the name Olivia and was completely perplexed. “Just ask her,” he kept saying. But I could not. “You’re a man,” I told him. ,You would not understand.’
I wrestled with the moral dilemma for days and in an act of cowardice we bottled it and decided to find another name.
Our baby was six days old when my husband and I looked at Breakfast at Tiffany’s and decided on Holly after Audrey Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly. This did not go down well with Italian relations. The Swedes were nicer, but I don’t think anyone was overly in love. Least me.
When Holly was a little over a year old we moved to France and it was there that the consequences of my weakness hit me hard. Holly is pronounced “au lit” in French, meaning “to bed.” Not a great name for anyone let alone a little girl trying to fit in. I had never been comfortable with Holly. Every time I started getting annoyed, I would remind myself of Holly Golightly, but as one helpful friend put it, “You should’ve just called her Audrey.”
Helen with her daughter Olivia, now 23. Olivia is known to everyone as Olive
Rupert also started complaining after one of his bike friends almost fell off his bike laughing at “au lit”.
I had enough. We were in France for about four months when I went online one evening and, encouraged by Rupert, did something I had been thinking about for weeks: I officially deeded our daughter’s name to Olivia Holly Sintra.
It took about three minutes online. I filled in a form and paid a fee of £60. There was some administrative work involved, such as a new passport when the time came, but all I had to do was show the documentary record.
The reaction of friends and family varied greatly. Italian relations were enthusiastic. Like the French, they had never been able to pronounce Holly at all.
However, some of the English were a little surprised, to say the least. A friend went so far as to claim it was akin to wiping out Holly’s existence.
Another godfather refused to call her anything other than Holly. But most of them understood the reasons for the change when we explained that it was due to our move to France (I didn’t elaborate on my previous weakness) and were quite confident.
As for Shannon, she and I lost touch after we both moved, 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 with a personalized baby book in hand and demanded to know who “Holly” was, like I’d been hiding a secret sibling from her. We hadn’t mentioned the name change to her; she was just too young.
Her lovely French childminder continued to call her ‘Ollie’ (which was a nickname for both Holly and Olivia) and she was a pet name in the family anyway.
But that day I had to stop everything I was doing and explain the whole saga. At this point, I could imagine what an “actually, you’re adopted” conversation might feel like.
Olivia took it well, in fact she referred to herself as Olive up until then anyway so didn’t really see what the difference was.
She’s 23 now and still known to everyone as Olive. Olivia is only there for people she doesn’t like or when she’s in trouble!