Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Oliver

There are three possible origins for the English personal name Oliver. First, Oliver is typically considered the modern form of the Old Anglo-Saxon Ælfhere from the Germanic elements “ælf” meaning “elf” and “hari” meaning “army”. Elves featured prominently in early Germanic mythology as possessors of certain magical powers. The elf could use his supernatural powers to either hinder or benefit human progress depending on his mood (although the little devils evolved with more sinister powers in later folklore). As a result, the Olde English “ælf” component was commonly used in the creation of Old Anglo-Saxon personal names (many of which have survived the test of time): Ælfræd "Elf-counsel" (Alfred), Ælfwine "Elf-friend" (Alvin/Elvin), Ælfric "Elf-ruler" (Eldridge), Alberich “King of the elves” (Aubrey). And here’s another interesting little factoid: “ælfsogoða” was the Olde English word for “hiccups”, a condition believed to have been caused by elves. The second possible origin of Oliver comes from an old Scandinavian personal name Áleifr (Olaf), from the Old Norse “óleifr” meaning “ancestor; relic”. Lastly, Oliver’s existence as a personal name could very well have been influenced by Latin "olivarius" or “olive tree”. The olive tree is an emblem of peace, such as when one "extends an olive branch". The root of this can be found in the Bible, Genesis 8:11, when a dove comes to Noah with a freshly plucked olive leaf at the end of the Great Deluge. The olive leaf thus became a symbol of impending peace. The name Oliver appears in the medieval French poem “The Song of Roland” (considered one of the most important pieces of French literature written sometime between the late 11th to early 12th centuries). In the epic poem, Oliver is the contemplative and wise companion-in-arms to the headstrong and sometimes reckless hero Roland. As Oliver astutely informs his friend: “heroism tempered with common sense is a far cry from madness; / Reasonableness is to be preferred to recklessness.” This poem was enormously popular in the Middle Ages, so Oliver’s name became famous (as did Roland’s). Today Oliver is gigantically popular among English-speakers but nowhere more so than in England (currently ranked #2) or Australia (currently ranked #3). It’s also ranked quite high in Scotland, Canada, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United States. They adore this name in all Scandinavian countries, as well – it’s a Top 10 in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

All About the Baby Name – Oliver

Personality

OF THE BOY NAME OLIVER

The number Nine personality represents the completion or ending of the cycle, and a need for perfection. This is the personality that moves from "self" to a greater understanding and compassion for the human condition and the world order. They want to make the world a better place. Nines are capable of great spiritual and humanitarian achievements. They are courageous and fearless, able to fight great battles on behalf of worthy causes. These personalities will not tolerate injustice. They are compassionate people with a strong sensitivity to others. They are able to both educate and inspire. Friendships and relationships are the lifeblood to the Nine, and they place a high value on love and affection. Nines are often exceptionally gifted artistically, and they have a keen imagination and enterprising mind.

Popularity

OF THE BOY NAME OLIVER

Oliver is enjoying a revival in America right now. At the turn of the 20th century (over 100 years ago), the name was in relatively heavy usage. By the 1960s, however, Oliver fell out of favor and was considered old-fashioned and somewhat out-dated. Fast forward to the turn of the 21st century and Oliver has returned triumphantly. Clearly, Americans are rediscovering the name’s original English charm and unique style. Oliver recently landed a spot on America’s Top 100 in 2009 for the first time in over 100 years. Apparently, American parents finally “got the memo” from our friends across the pond.

Quick Facts

ON OLIVER

GENDER:

Boy

ORIGIN:

NUMBER OF SYLLABLES:

3

RANKING POPULARITY:

52

PRONUNCIATION:

AHL-ə-vər

SIMPLE MEANING:

Elf-army; Ancestral relic, Olive tree (peace)

Characteristics

OF OLIVER

Multi-talented

Intuitive

Oneness

Idealistic

Philanthropy

Independent

Perfection

Cultural References to the Baby Name – Oliver

Literary Characters

OF THE BABY NAME OLIVER

Charley Bates is a character in Charles Dickens’ 1838 classic, Oliver Twist. Charley is a good-natured and indefatigable member of Fagin’s gang of pickpockets into which Oliver is inducted. Unlike the naïve and well-behaved Oliver, who is discovered to be of gentle birth, our Charley is what he is. He’s a boy of the streets, of common origin, who gets by on a wink and a smile. And a few pockets. He and the Artful Dodger teach Oliver all they know, to disastrous results – well, not for Oliver, you may be sure. Laugh-a-minute Charley ultimately sees the light and gives up his thieving ways. We are told he does so because of his horror over Sikes’ murder of Nancy, but we’re willing to bet that he saw a surer thing in legitimacy. Charley prospers on his own merits, not by any mere coincidence of parentage, and we’re glad he does!

Nancy is a major character in Charles Dickens’ beloved novel, Oliver Twist, first published in book form in 1838. A young girl of the streets, she has been working for the master thief, Fagin, for twelve years, and is the lover of his brutal comrade in crime, Bill Sikes. Nancy, however, is a complex character, at once inured to her fate, yet sympathetic toward young Oliver and extremely protective of him. She regrets her role in Oliver’s kidnapping, and tries to make it up by informing Oliver’s benefactors of the wrongs perpetrated upon him. At the same time, she is conflicted over the possibility of betraying her lover while helping Oliver. Cruel fate may have led her to the life of the “fallen” woman, but Nancy exemplifies the most Christian-like of all endeavors when she sacrifices her own life for Oliver’s safety, and dies at the very hands of the man she loves. Hardly the usual role model for Victorian girls, she is nonetheless the type of woman to have in one’s corner – a self-reliant, spunky champion of underdogs who happened to be born in a very unaccommodating century.

Oliver Twist is the much beloved eponymous hero of Charles Dickens’ early novel, “Oliver Twist,” published in 1837/38, portraying the sordid underbelly of social and economic injustice in Victorian England. The book has spawned dozens of movie and television adaptations, musicals, and an enduring affection for the little orphan boy. Oliver, sent to a “baby farm” after his mother dies giving birth to him, is eventually sent to a workhouse as is the custom of the day. He escapes from the mean-spirited poverty of the place, only to land in the grip of a vicious band of thieves in London, led by Mr. Fagin, and including the famous Artful Dodger, the brutal Bill Sikes, and the redemptive Nancy. Facing unbelievably horrendous cruelties, Oliver meets each challenge with the goodness inherent in him, and never sinks to the level of his tormentors. In typical Victorian (well, really, Dickensian) fashion, Oliver turns out to be the progeny of gentle folk after all (how else could he have managed such refined manners and speech, given his background?!). In perhaps the most quoted line from the book, Oliver begs: “Please, sir, I want some more.” Happy boy that Fate finally smiled upon, for he does, indeed, get lots more.

Daddy Warbucks was featured in the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray, debuting in The Chicago Tribune in 1924. He is a rags-to-riches industrialist who, along with his wife, takes in the orphaned child, Annie, and provides security and comfort for her during a series of adventures. Widely adapted to radio, movie, television and musical forms, Daddy Warbucks became famous enough to be named to Forbes’ list of fictional wealthiest characters. His name has taken on a slightly less respectable life of its own, having evolved into a slang term for someone who provides for the lavish security of another, i.e., “a Daddy Warbucks”.

"The Song of Roland” is the oldest known French epic poem, dating from around the time of the First Crusade in the late 11th century, and most probably intended as a call to arms by Christians against the heathens. The Christian King Charlemagne is engaged in a conquest in Spain, with one recalcitrant city and king standing. Through a series of treacherous betrayals within the ranks, Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, the hero of the poem, is left without reinforcements to defend against the oncoming Saracens. His good friend, the sensible, prudent and upright Oliver, implores him to blow upon the Oliphant horn and summon Charlemagne back with help. Roland refuses, with the result that twenty thousand men lose their lives. When this disaster is made clear to him, Roland blows mightily upon his horn of elephant tusk in order to summon Charlemagne back for revenge. This last act bursts his lungs, and he dies on the battlefield, a martyr, to be escorted to heaven by angels. The good Oliver, we hope, also makes it into celestial territory, albeit without heavenly escorts.

Popular Songs

ON OLIVER

Oliver
a song by Anita Skorgan

Oliver's House
a song by Sheila E

Moments with Oliver
an instrumental by Rachael Yamagata

Oliver's Army
a song by Elvis Costello

Famous People

NAMED OLIVER

Oliver Cromwell (British military commander)
Oliver Hardy (comedian from the comic duo “Laurel and Hardy”)
Oliver Stone (director)
Oliver Ellsworth (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
Oliver Platt (actor)
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
Oliver Seibert (hockey player)

Children of Famous People

NAMED OLIVER

We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Oliver

Historic Figures

WITH THE NAME OLIVER

Oliver Cromwell was an impassioned Puritan and military genius from 17th century England who entered Parliament in 1628 during a period when relations were strained between Parliament and the king (Charles I, who wanted absolute power). When English Civil War broke out in 1642, Cromwell threw himself bravely and enthusiastically onto the front lines despite his lack of military experience and founded the New Model Army. Either it just came naturally to him, or else he was blindly following his faith in “God’s will;” in any case, Cromwell was instrumental in the army’s victory over the royalists. Charles I was executed in 1649 and England became a commonwealth without a monarchy. Under this new republic, Cromwell became its “Lord Protector.” Unfortunately the new political structure was just more of the same old, same old: dictatorships, disagreements, civil unrest, religious freedoms impinged upon, etc. Not to mention that the monarchy was a part of the national fabric and sorely missed, like it or not. After Cromwell’s death (his son was meant to be his successor but didn’t quite have old Dad’s leadership qualities), a political crisis ensued that resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. Charles II (son of Charles I) returned from exile in Europe to assume his rightful place as monarch in 1660, but also agreed to limitations of power.