Balian was the youngest son of Barisan of Ibelin, and brother of Hugh and Baldwin. His father, a knight in the County of Jaffa, had been rewarded with the lordship of Ibelin after the revolt of Hugh II of Le Puiset. Barisan married
Helvis of Ramla, heiress of the wealthy lordship of Ramla. Balian's name was also Barisan, but he seems to have adapted the name to the Old French "Balian" c. 1175–76; he is sometimes known as Balian the Younger or Balian II when his father is also referred to as Balian. He is also called Balian of Ramla or Balian of Nablus. In Latin his name appears variously as Balian, Barisan, Barisanus, Balianus, Balisan, and Balisanus. Arabic sources call him Balian ibn Barzan which translates "Balian, son of Barzan (or Barisan). His precise year of birth is unknown, but he was of the age of majority (usually 15) by 1158, when he first appears in charters, having been described as under-age ("infra annos") in 1156.
After the death of Balian's eldest brother Hugh c. 1169, the castle of Ibelin passed to the next brother, Baldwin. Baldwin, preferring to remain lord of Ramla, gave it to Balian. Balian held Ibelin as a vassal of his brother, and indirectly as a rear-vassal of the king, from whom Baldwin held Ramla.