Woman whose real name is Barbie Oppenheimer speaks out on the craze of the summer

‘I started as a Barbie,’ she says

Olivia Hebert
Los Angeles
Thursday 31 August 2023 20:00 BST
Related: Margot Robbie reveals favourite Barbenheimer meme

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Louise Thomas

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A woman named Barbara “Barbie” Oppenheimer is reportedly having a tough time checking into hotels.

Barbara Oppenheimer - a retired Boston University professor and grandmother of five based in Newton, Massachusetts - has had quite the summer amid this year’s “Barbenheimer” frenzy.

In an interview with Slate, Oppenheimer revealed that numerous people thought she was joking when she would say her name outloud. The retiree recalled a specifically confusing moment during a recent vacation, saying: “When I checked in at the hotel, I said, ‘Barbie Oppenheimer!’ The guy said, ‘Are you pulling my leg?’”

Oppenheimer noted that she “had college friends around the world texting me that weekend when [the movies] came out, with the whole schmear, you know… ‘the bomb and the bombshell’.”

“It’s pretty funny!” she said about the biggest blockbuster success of the summer. “It was a brilliant thing that they launched them together. It really brought people back into movie theaters.”

The retired professor also revealed to the outlet that her husband is actually a distant relative of J Robert Oppenheimer; his father is third cousins with the father of the atomic bomb, hence her last name.

The couple saw Christopher Nolan’s film about her husband’s famous relative on “opening weekend” because they “really wanted to see how they treated his story.” Ultimately, she and her husband felt that the director did “a good job” in honouring the physicist.

As someone who once worked in the scientific field, Professor Oppenheimer found the exploration of J Robert Oppenheinmer’s “moral dilemmas” as particularly “compelling”. She explained to the outlet: “Watching him deal with these questions, and the politicisation of it… I thought some of the most interesting scenes were about the patriotism at Los Alamos, as the staff felt at the time.”

Film-Barbenheimer (Warner Bros Pictures/Universal)

Within even her husband’s family, she noted that Oppenheimer’s legacy can be polarising. “He was a hero to many, but he was also the subject of a lot of anger. I mean, I’ve always heard in my husband’s family, whether you claimed him as a relative or didn’t, really depended on how you felt about things,” she said.

Although they didn’t do a Barbenheimer double feature, the longtime couple eventually got around to seeing Barbie “two weeks later” and she noted that her husband “laughed out loud” throughout the entire movie.

According to Oppenheimer, her grandaughter now plays with her childhood Barbie doll, her old Ken doll, and her Skipper doll as well. The retired professor recalled how she even used to go by the nickname “Barbie” when she was younger. “I started as a Barbie, spelled just like Barbie. Because in those days, everyone wanted to be like Barbie,” she recounted. When she reached the age of 12, Oppenheimer said that she started to spell her name as “Barby, with a Y”.


Because of her Midwestern upbringing, she says naturally became a “Barb” into her teenage years and young adulthood. When it came time to become “professional and serious”, she changed her name once again. “When I graduated and got my fellowship at Mass General, I went by Barbara,” she said.

When asked which film she enjoyed more, the grandmother remarked that she couldn’t “choose” a favourite. “I’m glad I saw both,” she proclaimed.

Barbie Oppenheimer enjoyed both movies so much that she even bought a T-shirt commemorating the meme, telling the outlet: “I’m going next week with a group of women and we’ll all wear pink. I’ll wear my Barbenheimer T-shirt."

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