‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Where Did Ron Howard’s Character’s Name ‘Opie’ Come From?


By Katie Maloney

How did Opie from The Andy Griffith Show get his name? Here are two theories on which real-life people Opie was named after.

Opie Taylor, played by Ron Howard, on The Andy Griffith Show was America’s favorite redheaded child actor. Fans of the show all wished they could live in the town of Mayberry and befriend Opie and his father Sheriff Andy Taylor.

Unfortunately, the show was just that – a fictional show. Nevertheless, the town and some of its characters may have been based on real-life places and people, including Opie. Certainly, “Opie” is a unique name. And although you probably haven’t met a whole lot of Opies, The Andy Griffith Show character isn’t the only one to ever exist. In fact, there are two men, also named Opie, that fans believe Ron Howard‘s character may have been named after.

First, there’s Opal “Opie” Taft Cates. Cates was a famous bandleader and actor who played the clarinet for a swing band in Arkansas. Cates starred on the radio program Meet Me at Parky’s which was set in a restaurant and aired from 1945–48. Sheldon Leonard, who produced The Andy Griffith Show, was also an actor on the show with Cates. Some believe Leonard suggested Opie for Ron Howard’s character after befriending Cates.

However, there’s a second theory as to how Opie got his name. During an interview, Opie Shelton, a childhood friend of Andy Griffith, claimed that Opie was named after him. Maybe the inspiration behind the name was a combination of both?

Opie wasn’t known for his aggressive nature. In fact, even when his father thought Opie was naive or up to no good, he always quickly discovered that Opie was both generous and kindhearted.

During one episode, Opie accidentally killed a mother bird with his slingshot. Andy sat Opie down and talked to him about the mother bird’s three baby birdies that were left without a mother. Andy even opened the window so that Opie could hear the orphaned birds’ little chirps. Feeling terrible, Opie decided to nurse the baby birds until they were old and healthy enough to fly out on their own. What’s sweeter than that?

It’s hard to believe that such a sweet kid could have some Viking blood in him. Yes, we know Opie a fictional character, so technically that’s not possible. Nevertheless, the name “Opie” actually comes from the Viking Ages. A reporter once traced the etymology of the name Opie. Turns out that “Opie” can be traced back to the old Viking name “Asbjorn” which meant “God bear.” The nickname of Asbjorn evolved from “Asbie” to “Obby” to “Oppy” to “Opie.” Opie could mean “Son of Asbjorn.”