Vin Diesel was born in New York City, the son of Delora, a psychiatrist and astrologer.Diesel has Italian and black ancestry. He has described himself as "definitely a person of color" and stated that he is "of ambiguous ethnicity – Italian and a lot of other stuff". Diesel has never met his biological father, and was raised by his African-American father, Irving, an acting instructor and theatre manager. He made his stage debut at age seven when he appeared in the children's play Dinosaur Door, written by Barbara Garson. The play was produced at Theater for the New City in New York's Greenwich Village. His involvement in the play came about when he, his brother and some friends had broken into Theater for the New City's space on Jane Street with the intent to vandalize it. They were confronted by the theater's artistic director, Crystal Field, who instead of calling the police, handed them scripts and offered them parts in the upcoming show. He remained involved with the theatre throughout adolescence, going on to attend the city's Hunter College, where his creative writing studies led him to begin screenwriting. Diesel became an active film-maker in the early 1990s, first earning notice for the short film Multi-Facial, which was selected for screening at the 1995 Cannes Festival. Diesel has identified himself as a "multi-faceted" actor as a result of early difficulties finding roles due to his mixed heritage.
In an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, he said that he changed his name to "Vin Diesel" while working as a bouncer at the New York City nightclub Tunnel, because in that business one's real name is not usually given out. The name "Vin" is simply a shortened version of "Vincent". He received the nickname "Diesel" from his friends who said he ran off diesel fuel, referring to his non-stop energy.
He has a twin brother, Paul, a younger brother, Tim, and a sister, Samantha.