Zooey Deschanel, born in Los Angeles, California, is the daughter of cinematographer/director Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel (née Weir).
She is of French (from her paternal grandfather) and Irish descent. She was named after Zooey Glass, the male protagonist of J. D. Salinger's 1961 novella Franny and Zooey. Her older sister, Emily Deschanel, is also an actress and stars in the TV series Bones.
Deschanel lived in lower Los Angeles, but spent much of her childhood traveling because her father shot films on location; she later said that she "hated all the traveling I'm really happy now that I had the experience, but at the time I was just so miserable to have to leave my friends in Los Angeles and go to places where they didn't have any food I liked or things I was used to." She grew up in Canada, Yugoslavia, England and South Africa. She attended Crossroads, a private preparatory school in Santa Monica, California, where she befriended future co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Hudson. She sang throughout high school, planning to pursue a career in musical theatre. She attended Northwestern University for seven months before dropping out to work as an actress.