Olin logo.
Olin logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s one part Oliver, one part Nolan, and a tiny bit Homer, too.

Thanks to Leitia for suggesting Olin as our Baby Name of the Day.

Olin appeared in the US Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1959, hovered on the edge for a few years, then left entirely after 1964.  Olen charted consistently from 1889 to 1955, with a few years before and after.  And Olan ranked in the Top 1000 on and off from 1901 through 1931.

Plenty of men have answered to some variation of this name, and yet his roots are elusive.  The best theories are as follows:

  • He’s an Old Norse name, a cousin for Olaf, Olvir, and Olrik.  The first element in those names derives from a word meaning ancestor, so this seems plausible.
  • Then again, there’s a Swedish surname, Ohlin.  The meaning of the first element is lost, but the -lin ending is common.
  • Or maybe he’s Germanic, via a short form of all of those names beginning with od – wealth.  If that’s true, then Olin likely means “son of guy with the od- name.”
  • In Russian, olen is the word for a male deer – a stag.
  • In Spanish, Olan was a trade name, inspired by a word used to describe decorations on women’s clothing, and thus eventually the surname of those who made or sold them.
  • Then there’s the ancient argument for Olen.  A poet from Lycia, his work is lost, but others refer to his writing.

None of these explanations is really satisfactory.  My best guess?  A number of possibly related surnames all migrated to the first spot at about the same time.  Factor in spelling inconsistencies common over time, and there’s little wonder Olin, Olen, and Olan were all out there, mingling and mixing.

And, of course, the various names are being worn by notables, like American author Olen Steinhauer and entrepreneur and unstoppable photographer Olan Mills.  Franklin Olin founded a corporation that manufactures ammunition and chemicals; he also established a foundation known for supporting higher education.

General Hospital introduced a female character called Olin.  Especially with the -in ending, Olin does bear some resemblance to Allison, Ellen, and other tailored choices for girls.  And, of course, there’s lovely Swedish-born and Oscar-nominated actress Lena Olin, perhaps one of the better known bearers of the surname today.

Overall, Olin and company share lots of sounds and a similar surname vibe with many popular names today.  From Oliver to Owen to Noah and Cole, we’re in love with the letter o for our sons.  And yet there’s something just the tiniest bit off about him, too.  I’d expect to find him in a sibset with other rarities, like Elva and Aldis, rather than the emerging mainstream, like Lucy and Miles.

But if quirky, vintage, and decidedly outside of the mainstream is your vibe, then Olin could be one to consider.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. All I can see when I hear Olin is the NFL center Olin Kreutz, whom I had the fun of watching play as a UW Husky. Sounds like a massive offensive lineman to me!! 😉

  2. I know a teenage Olin! It’s also a street in my town. I don’t think it’s a particularly attractive name, and I feel like it’d be mistaken for Owen a whole lot.

  3. Olin was a happy accident discovery for me. I was at work and meant to type online, but typed Oline as a typo and realized that Olin must have history as a name. I look it up and confirmed that Olin has been used as a name.

    Unclear origins aside, I sort of like it. It’s like Owen and Oliver.

  4. If my family had keep its a patronymic surname, my maiden name would be Olson and my Great-grandma was named Oline, so I’ve considered Oliver… But Olin makes me think of O-Lan from the novel the Good Earth (possibly since Lotus was a NOTD last week.) She’s so pitiful and broken-down that I have trouble imaging the name on a baby.

  5. I studied in a number of Olin Libraries. Olin and Carnegie would make an offbeat sibset. Even if you also used Melvyl (or Melville) and Elsie (L.C.), a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily catch on. Then there’s Dewey, the ubiquitous name stateside for library cats.

  6. Hmm, makes me think of Lena Olin, but I can see the appeal as a first name, especially for a boy. It would make a nice alternative to Owen.

    1. My first thought too! It gives the name a somewhat feminine vibe for me. Olin also makes me think of Odin, a name friends of mine recently used on their son.

  7. All of our family portraits from the 70s and 80s have Olan Mills’ logo in the corner. That almost makes it feel like a family name to me.

  8. I immediately think of Olan Mills and my best friend’s grandmother, Ola. It seems rather doughy to me.