From Audrey Hepburn to Scarlett Johansson, the given names of Hollywood stars have had an impact, far away from the bright lights of La La Land.
And surname names have become twenty-first staples, from Jackson and Harper to Mason and Kennedy.
Combine those two categories, and what do you get? A list of surnames right at home under the lights, borrowed from Hollywood stars past and present.
Not every names works. Whoopi Goldberg and Renee Zellwegger have few namesakes; Benedict Cumberbatch might’ve inspired some Bens, but his surname isn’t a candidate for a first. And, in some cases, an acting career can be overshadowed by later actions, making it hard to evaluate the name’s potential.
This list is roughly divided in Golden Age and 21st Century Hollywood surname names. Obviously, there’s a lot of time – and talent – that won’t fit neatly into either category.
GOLDEN AGE HOLLYWOOD SURNAME NAMES
As in Academy Award winning screen legend, Mary Astor, one of the few to transition from silent film to talkies. Her screen name conjures up the family of American magnates, but Mary is no relation.
Actor David Boreanaz initially chose this Hollywood surname for his daughter. But he and wife Jaime Bergman quickly changed it to Bella. Still, Bardot has the makings of a hit: the O ending, the ties to 1950s and 60s style icon Brigitte Bardot. And that’s the problem – she’s been lauded for her animal rights activism but also fined in her native France for hate speech multiple times. It puts a damper on a name that could otherwise be a rising favorite. That said, five girls received the name in 2022, putting in the US data for the very first time.
Hollywood’s Humphrey Bogart is too big a name to be overlooked, and with easy nickname Bo, there’s reason to believe it could wear well. Except a bogart is also a mischief-minded spirit in English folklore, known for hiding under bridges or wreaking havoc in the kitchen. (And mentioned in the Harry Potter series, meaning that the term isn’t completely obscure.) Plus, Bogart’s habit of keeping a cigarette dangling in his mouth led to the use of his surname as slang. To “bogart” is to hog; in the 1960s, rock band The Fraternity of Man released “Don’t Bogart That Joint.” The song appeared on 1969’s Easy Rider soundtrack, locking it in the public imagination. Still, that’s fading into the past now, and Bogart could be a daring, wearable choice.
From A Streetcar Named Desire to The Godfather, Marlon Brando starred in some of the best movies of all time. It looks like Brandon without the final N, but Brando is Marlon’s real name – he’s actually a junior. With names like Arlo, Leo, and Milo riding high, Brando fits right in.
It might bring to mind snowboards, but seven-time Academy Award nominee Richard Burton puts the name on this list. He was born Richard Jenkins Jr. His stage name pays homage to a school teacher turned theater director who helped Burton hone his voice for the stage. Burton fits with boys’ names like Grayson and Easton.
James Cagney – often called Jimmy – graduated from vaudeville to playing unforgettable tough guys in Hollywood classics. Years later, Cagney & Lacey became a ground-breaking 1982 television series, featuring two female detectives in New York City. The surname spiked in use during that time, but only a little. Today, it’s still a name that blends nods to Ireland while sounding strong and tough.
As in Charlie. The actor remains a household name a century after he first appeared in his most famous on-screen roles. As for Chaplin, it sounds like chaplain – a religious title – and it’s almost certainly related in most cases. But Chaplin can also come from a Ukrainian word meaning heron – a nickname for someone with long legs. It’s among the Hollywood surname names most clearly connected to the actor, even all these years later.
Few would assume that Cooper is a nod to Hollywood. But Gary Cooper, winning of two Academy Awards, feels like a significant enough figure to mention Cooper here. And, of course, twenty-first century actor Bradley Cooper is a nine-time Academy Award nominee himself.
Born Harry Lillis Crosby Jr, but nicknamed Bing as a child, the actor and singer puts this name on the list. Crosby won a Best Actor Oscar for Going My Way. Today, though, Crosby probably makes more parents think of music (as in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) or ice hockey (thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguin’s Sidney Crosby.) Either way, it’s still a crisp, fun, and slightly unexpected surname choice.
Like Cooper, this one isn’t obviously a star-studded choice. But legendary screen star Bette Davis makes this a possibility.
There’s something perpetually cool about Dean, and some credit surely goes to the late James Dean, the original Rebel Without a Cause.
Two generations of actors put dashing Douglas on the list. Of course, it’s been used as a first name for so long that it’s easy to forget that Douglas started out as a last name for people living near Scotland’s Douglas Water. Michael Douglas, the son, and Kirk Douglas, the dad, are both famous today, but Kirk made his big screen debut way back in 1946.
This sounds a lot like popular choice Gabriel, but it makes the list because of leading man Clark Gable. The actor starred in many a famous film from the 1930s through the 1950s. He’s probably most famous for portraying Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, but that’s just one of his many roles.
Archibald Leach was born in England. He came to America, and, after a name change, established himself as a major force in Hollywood during the 1930s. Cary Grant starred in screwball comedies like The Philadelphia Story and thrillers like North by Northwest. He’s considered one of the greatest leading men of the Golden Age. It’s one of many reasons why Grant sounds debonair and polished. In more recent years, Hugh Grant is another famous figure adding to the Hollywood surname names list.
Originally a English place name, Heston makes the list thanks to Charlton. From The Ten Commandments to Planet of the Apes, he starred in many hits that remain influential today. Born John Charles Carter, Charlton was his grandmother’s maiden name. Heston was his stepfather’s surname. Together, it’s an unforgettable combination, and Heston has potential as a first.
Overwhelmingly, Holden feels literary. It’s the name of JD Salinger’s most famous character. But beyond Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, there’s also leading man William Holden. He co-starred with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the original Sabrina, and won the 1953 Best Actor Academy Award for Stalag 17.
Decades before there was Glee heartthrob Finn Hudson, girls swooned over the toweringly tall, ever so handsome Rock Hudson – who, incidentally, sang in his high school glee club in Winnetka, Illinois. A talent scout changed his name from Roy Fitzgerald to Rock Hudson, inspired by the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River. The latter is still probably most people’s first though when they hear the name, but the actor adds some gloss.
Born Edward Montgomery Clift, the actor dropped his first name and found fame using his middle. This is another last name-as-first name from way back in the middle of the twentieth century. Back then, Montgomery Clift was one of the “moody Today, though, gentlemanly Montgomery sounds like a brother for Sebastian.
As in Marilyn Monroe, among the most easily recognized famous figures on this list. Mariah Carey, a devoted Marilyn fan, gave this name to her only daughter. And it’s very much on trend, with that bright O ending. It’s also spelled Munro and Munroe, but Monroe – thanks to Marilyn – feels most accessible.
Once again, it’s a last name that was already used as a first name in Hollywood. Spencer Tracy earned nine Oscar nominations, winning two. His long romance with leading lady Katharine Hepburn spanned nine movies over more than two decades. While Spencer peaked as a given name in the 1990s in the US, it remains a buttoned-up kind of surname name still very in step with current trends.
Today the most famous Taylor is Swift. But back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, it would’ve been Elizabeth Taylor. From a child star in the 1940s to her record-setting $1 million payday as the lead in 1961’s Cleopatra, Liz became an international sensation. All these years later, she’s still widely remembered, not just as an actor, but as an early advocate for HIV/AIDS research and patient support.
Brooklyn-born Gene Tierney became an Oscar-nominated leading lady in the 1940s. Her masculine moniker honors an uncle who died young; while Jean and Jeanne were big for girls in the early twentieth century, Gene has always been overwhelmingly masculine. Her lively Irish surname would fit right in with Riley and similar choices.
Like Douglas, we tend to forget that Wayne was a last name first. Originally a surname for a wagonmaker, or wainwright, Wayne became famous in films thanks to John. And one of John Wayne’s early films? 1939’s Stagecoach. How fitting. He went on to star in a long line of Westerns and war movies, almost always playing a strong, rugged, and solitary hero. Nicknamed the Duke, John Wayne is an iconic – but Wayne hasn’t quite flourished as a baby name as a result.
21st CENTURY HOLLYWOOD SURNAMES
Mix up Anna and Addison, and actress Jennifer Aniston’s name feels like an option. The spelling Anniston is also seen. It blends twenty-first century creativity with Hollywood surname names style.
Actor Paul Bettany’s surname feels like a mix of botanical Betony and Biblical Bethany. For now, it’s still undiscovered, even though the similar Bellamy is trending.
As in the original James Bond, Sean Connery. It’s yet another Irish surname, one that could be an update to Connor or an alternative to Delaney.
CRUISE and CRUZ
Cruz is one of the Beckham boys, but it’s also the last name of the talented Penelope Cruz. And Cruise, of course, is Tom, an international star for years. Cruz and Cruise did briefly date in the early 2000s. While Cruz – the Spanish word for cross – is an American favorite, Cruise remains rare.
Since ancient days, Damon has been a given name. But this generation also knows it as a surname for Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon.
Inspired by Robert De Niro, this is another o-ending possibility.
Two-time Best Actress winner Sally Field is the reason this name makes the list, though Fields, Fielder, and Fielding might be slightly more wearable.
Borrowed from Harrison Ford, the actor behind iconic roles like Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Ford is rich with potential and steeped in Americana.
Jodie Foster’s surname can read as a virtue name – after all, to foster is to encourage and nurture. But it also brings to mind the foster care system, so some parents might hesitate.
Actor Jamie Foxx chose his stage name as a nod to legendary comedian Redd Foxx – born John Sanford. Redd Foxx, in turn, took his surname from MLB Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx. The double X is maybe a little much; it’s always been a variant of Fox.
Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck are the parents to Samuel Garner Affleck. Proof, perhaps, that parents prefer to tuck this Hollywood surname in the middle spot? Maybe, maybe not. As a word, to garner means to gather, as in information. It’s an interesting meaning, paired with a very stylish sound.
As in Harrison Ford, the Hollywood leading man steadily making his last name as a first name feel like a practical choice for parents.
Borrowed from Anne Hathaway, this surname might come from a nearly forgotten first name. But it’s been an English surname for ages. In fact, Shakespeare’s wife was also named Anne Hathaway. The Oscar winner hasn’t inspired many namesakes. But with easy nickname Hattie, this could work.
As in Anjelica Huston, the celebrated actress and director born into a Hollywood family. Her nephew, Jack Huston, is the youngest member of the family to join the business – so far. It’s a place name ultimately derived from Hugh. The spelling Houston is more familiar, thanks to the Texas city, named for influential statesman Sam Houston. Dropping the first O makes it slightly more surname-y.
Pick the Jones you’d like to honor with this surname, or maybe use it just for the upbeat and stylish sound. But Jones makes this list because of actor Tommy Lee Jones.
There’s Buster Keaton. Diane Keaton. And Michael Keaton, who has played roles from Batman to Beetlejuice and Birdman, earning an Oscar nomination for the last part. Keaton fits in nicely with so many boys’ names in the current US Top 100, and that initial K has plenty of appeal, too.
This might read like a Harry Potter fan name, thanks to character Kingsley Shacklebolt. But it’s Ben Kingsley, the celebrated English actor, who puts this name on the list.
Possibly related to the seventh century Saint Leodegar (or Leger or Ledger), this name is instantly familiar thanks to the late, great Heath Ledger. It’s stylish and on-trend, easily spelled and pronounced.
Actress Laura Linney started acting in 1990. She’s racked up an impressive list of credits and awards since. Linney sounds like a diminutive for Lynn, that mid-century favorite. But it’s a surname derived from an Old English feminine given name. It might be the perfect way to honor a grandma Lynn/e – or Evelyn, Marilyn, or any other -lyn name.
Speaking of -lyn names, Matlin sounds like an slimmed-down version of traditional Madeline. But it’s on this list thanks to Marlee Matlin. Her 1986 Academy Award marks the first time a deaf performer won. In 2021, she earned a Screen Actors Guild award for CODA. Matlin might come from a German word meaning alpine meadow, an appealing image. That adds up to a lot of reasons to consider Matlin among Hollywood surname names.
An in Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen, whose long career has spanned multiple genres and gone stage to screen and back again. Many Mc- names tend to read feminine, thanks to the runaway success of Mackenzie and Makayla during the late 1990s. But McKellen feels nicely masculine, an unexpected choice that could wear as well for a son as a daughter.
Should Nicholson join Harrison and Jackson on the playground? The legendary Jack Nicholson puts this name squarely in Hollywood territory. And with easy nicknames built right in, there’s no reason Nicholson couldn’t be considered.
Famous Quaker William Penn founded Philadelphia and ultimately named an entire state after himself. Actor Penn Badgley proves this works as a given name. But it’s Sean Penn, the Oscar-winning actor, that puts Penn on the surname list.
A place name and a mythological one rich with symbolism, Phoenix appeals for so many reasons. But one of them might be the famous family of actors, including the late River Phoenix and the Oscar-winning Joaquin Phoenix. The family surname was originally Bottom; they changed it to Phoenix, and all of the siblings use it today: Rain, Liberty, and Summer.
Born Winona Horowitz, Winona Ryder borrowed her stage name from musician Mitch Ryder. Mitch was born William Levise. The surname served them both well. Ryder was once a surname for a horsemen – a messenger, a warrior, or possibly a forest ranger. It’s among the most successful of Hollywood surname names.
Actor Charlize Theron earns the name a place on this list, but Theron is a Greek given name that means “to hunt.”
Forest Whitaker’s name is unforgettable. And while it’s his first – Forest – that is trending now, Whitaker has potential, too. It means wheat field or possibly white field, and Whit is a fun nickname for a daughter or a son.
Kate Winslet’s surname knocks it out of the park. It fits with Juliet and Scarlett, and shortens to current rising favorite Winnie. Despite all of these qualities, it has yet to rank in the US Top 1000. But it has been used in small numbers for girls in recent years, so it still could catch on.
What do you think of Hollywood surname names? Are there any you would consider?
First published on November 9, 2012, this post was revised and republished on August 23, 2023.