What’s in a Name?

I’ll admit- I did NOT want to give up my maiden name when I got married. It was my identity. I was proud of my last name and what it stood for. Being part of a large, loud and loving extended family I had a hard time coming to terms with the change. I remember signing the papers to change my legal name thinking I would miss signing “Oppold”. If you have been to an Oppold function you know first hand just how amazing (and yes- crazy) the Oppolds are. There’s even a song about us. (“You down with OPP!….Yeah you know me!”) Ok, I know I’m being obnoxious.

It’s been 8 1/2 years since I took my husbands last name, and I have to say I’m glad I did. I was so busy struggling with my new identity I didn’t stop to admire the significance of my new name: Washburne.

It turns out, my husband’s family tree is pretty impressive. They are direct descendants of:

  • Francis Cooke, a Separatist who fled religious persecution in England on the Mayflower. My husband (and my children) are even members of the Mayflower Society. Needless to say, Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in the Washburne family. His grandparents even have Pilgrim outfits they display (and sometimes wear) to celebrate their lineage.
  • Elihu B. Washburne, US Congressman, minister to France and US Secretary of State in 1869
  • Hempstead Washburne, mayor of Chicago from 1891-1893

What excites me most about the Washburne name, however, is the fact that I’m helping to carry on the name of one of the sweetest, most caring individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet- Brian’s grandfather, John (Jack) Washburne.

Known simply as “Poppa”, Jack lives up to his reputation as a member of The Greatest Generation. This past Thanksgiving we took a road trip to his house in New Jersey to celebrate the holiday with the Washburne family. Poppa (who celebrated his 90th birthday this week!) spent some time with us sharing his photo and journal scrapbook of his World War II experience. We found out that Jack was one of the youngest commissioned officers in the U.S. Army.


He served in the war as an engineer and witnessed things I couldn’t even fathom. (In the scrapbook we found a picture of a man holding up a severed head for starters.)  As we looked through his scrapbook I found love letters written in beautiful cursive to his girlfriend at the time (now wife of over 60 years). When I asked him about the letters he said he asked for her hand in marriage in a letter, and his father went and bought a ring for her when she said yes. Shortly after their long distance engagement the war ended and he returned home to marry Grandma and start a family.

A name is much more than just a signature. Every name has a story, and this is mine. I’ll always be an Oppold, but I’m proud to carry the Washburne name.

Thank you Poppa Jack, for serving our country and defending our freedom. You are truly an American hero.

P.S.- Thank you for making it possible for me to marry the man of my dreams.