Fact Check

No, Oppenheimer’s Full Name Wasn't ‘John Jacob Oppenheimer Schmidt’

"His name is my name too."

Published Jul 21, 2023

 (ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Wikimedia Commons
The full name of the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is credited as “the father of the nuclear bomb,” was John Jacob Oppenheimer Schmidt.

The 2023 movie "Oppenheimer," about the scientist who supervised the United States' effort to make the first nuclear bomb, was released in U.S. theaters on July 21, 2023. Anticipation for the film resulted in the circulation of a number of memes, jokes, and questionable claims about its main subject.

A number of tweets spread the deadpan claim that Oppenheimer's full name was actually "John Jacob Oppenheimer Schmidt." That claim appears to have originated in this June 1 tweet from the @MNateShyamalan account:

This is not true, and is clearly a joke that plays on the childhood nursery rhyme "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" (@MNateShyamalan is a frequent tweeter of jokes and satire). The physicist's real full name was Julius Robert Oppenheimer according to Britannica, and he was often referred to as J. Robert Oppenheimer, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, which is a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project.

But Oppenheimer did not use "Julius" as his first name. According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy and was central to the development of the nuclear bomb, Oppenheimer's own birth certificate stated that his first name was Julius. His biography "American Prometheus" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin stated he was named after his father:

Julius had already settled on naming his firstborn Robert; but at the last moment, according to family lore, he decided to add a first initial "J," in front of Robert. Actually the boy's birth certificate reads "Julius Robert Oppenheimer," evidence that Julius decided to name the boy after himself. This would be unremarkable—except that naming a baby after any living relative is contrary to European Jewish tradition. In any case, the boy would always be called Robert and, curiously, he in turn always insisted his first initial stood for nothing at all. 

The Los Alamos National Laboratory noted that a letter from the War Department (which would later become the Department of Defense) granting Oppenheimer security clearance used the name Julius. And yet in a 1946 letter to the U.S. Patent Office, he wrote: "This is to certify that I have no first name other than the letter J, and that my full and correct name is J Robert Oppenheimer."

Oppenheimer's 1967 obituary in The New York Times noted "he was Oppy, Oppie, or Opje to hundreds of persons who were captivated by his charm, eloquence, and sharp, subtle humor [...]" 

The obituary also noted "J. (for nothing) Robert Oppenheimer lived the remainder of his life [after the 1945 Trinity test] in the blinding light and the crepusculine [sic] shadow of the world's first manmade atomic explosion, an event for which he was largely responsible."

The rhyme that has been facetiously tied to his name, however, is short, funny, and has been included on children's shows like "Barney": 

Some internet articles claim the song emerged from vaudeville acts of the late 19th century, and also from European immigrant communities. The traditional lyrics are:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

His name is my name too

Whenever we go out

The people always shout

There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

Da da da da da da da da


Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"J. Robert Oppenheimer | Biography, Manhattan Project, Atomic Bomb, Significance, & Facts." Britannica. 20 July 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/J-Robert-Oppenheimer. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"J. Robert Oppenheimer - Nuclear Museum." Https://Ahf.Nuclearmuseum.Org/, https://ahf.nuclearmuseum.org/ahf/profile/j-robert-oppenheimer/. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"J.Robert Oppenheimer, Atom Bomb Pioneer, Dies; Physicist Cancer Victim Censured and Later Honored by the A.E.C. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, 'Father of the Atomic Bomb,' Dies in Princeton FAMED PHYSICIST WAS LONG AILING Career Had Been Marked With Controversy Since Hearings of 1953." The New York Times, 19 Feb. 1967. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1967/02/19/archives/jrobert-oppenheimer-atom-bomb-pioneer-dies-physicist-cancer-victim.html. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fovP6lAUVP0. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"Los Alamos National Laboratory." Energy.Gov, https://www.energy.gov/ea/los-alamos-national-laboratory. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"Oppenheimer." Directed by Christopher Nolan, Universal Pictures, Atlas Entertainment, Gadget Films, 2023. Accessed 21 July 2023.

Uitti, Jacob. "Behind the Meaning of the Catchy Nursery Rhyme 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.'" American Songwriter, 24 Feb. 2023, https://americansongwriter.com/behind-the-meaning-of-the-catchy-nursery-rhyme-john-jacob-jingleheimer-schmidt/. Accessed 21 July 2023.

"What Was Oppenheimer's First Name?." Los Alamos National Laboratory, https://discover.lanl.gov/publications/national-security-science/2021-spring/oppenheimers-name/. Accessed 21 July 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.