What was River Phoenix’s birth name?

River Bottom. Really! The family’s original surname was Bottom.

River Jude Bottom was born in a log cabin in Oregon in 1970. His parents named him River after the “river of life” in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. His middle name came from the Beatles song “Hey Jude.”

After the family joined and then left a religious cult, they “changed their name to Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes” to symbolize their new beginning.


  • Boyd, Blanche McCrary. “Ahead of the Pack.” Premiere Apr. 1988.
  • Wake, Jacqueline. “Face of the Day.” Herald [Glasgow] 20 Jul. 2000: 40.

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