Question about 'Rocky': ethnicity of the name Balboa

The Rocky Balboa character is as Italian as spaghetti. So why does he have a Spanish surname? I know the coincidence that it’s the same surname as the explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa was used as a plot element

(During the bicentennial year 1976, Apollo Creed picked Rocky out of a list of fighters because in his words, “America was discovered by an Italian”, meaning Columbus presumably. I get how seeing an explorer’s name of any nationality could trigger that idea)But that doesn’t explain how an Italian guy has a Spanish name.

Joe Mannix (as well as actor Mike Connors) was an Armenian-American, but Mannix is an Irish name.
Theo Kojak was a Greek-American, as was Telly Savalas, but “Kojak” would seem to be some Slavic-sounding name.
I know, it doesn’t answer your question. But it’s a free bump.

There have been other Italians named Balboa. It took some digging, but Alfonso Balboa was an author in the 1600s.

OK, cool - the name isn’t confined to borders like we sometimes expect.

Sort of like the joke, “If Jesus is Jewish, why does (H)e have a Hispanic name?”


Place name surnames come about when the place name is unusual for the locale the person is living in. No one from Rome living in Rome would get called Guisseppe Roma to distinguish him from all the other Guisseppes living in Rome. So for an Italian to have the surname Balboa they would have had an ancestor who came from Balboa – or maybe had visited there and wouldn’t shut up about it.

The Intertubes ate my post!


There has been commerce between Spain and Italy since before the Romans conquered the next tribe over; this sounds like an exaggeration until you realize there were Greek colonies in both places, and before that the Phoenicians and before that the people of Crete…

Different monarchs of Spain held posessions in Italy (both North and South, although the longest hold was in the South) through the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance - this combined with the commerce and with the two large pilgrimage routes (to Rome and to Compostela) to make it not-totally-unusual for people to migrate from a country to the other even during those times of bad roads and worse sailing; the Borgias were Borjas both before and after they had some of the most famous and horrible Popes, just to name a famous case of migration between the two countries.

As for Núñez de Balboa’s name, it seems a curious case. My first instinct when I see that structure is to assume that “Núñez de Balboa” is what we call an “apellido compuesto”, with a structure commonly found in central-northern Spain: “commonlastname from place”. It seems to fit. But I can’t find a place called Balboa, and some internet-based research (so not necessarily trustworthy) says that it’s actually a much-older structure and not a family name: “sonoffather’sfirstname from place” (Vasco’s father was called Nuño Arias de Balboa - the Arias is not a patronymic) and that the place in question happens to be a castle near the town of León, in Spain and close to the NE corner of Portugal.

It appears that anybody, Italian, Spanish or what have you, who has the toponymic Balboa as a lastname would be descended from people born in a castle near León.

Out of curiosity, I checked the Spanish White Pages: quite a few entries for Balboa just in Madrid (curiously enough, INE, which would in this case be the equivalent of the US Census, says there isn’t any province with more than 20 Balboas known to live there). Italian White Pages: three people, two businesses. Portugal: nothing.

In addition to what other posters have stated, lots of immigrants had their names shortened or anglicized when they arrived in American. So maybe Rocky’s grandparents or whoever had a name that sounded like Balboa, and it got shortened or recorded wrong when they arrived in America.

Worth noting that although “Balboa” is vanishingly rare, “Balbo” is a reasonably common Italian surname.

Yeah, I think you can pretty plausibly blame some Ellis Island immigration clerk.