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March 01, 2009


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Bill Tweed

Rafe (rhymes with Waif) as a pronunciation of Ralph. I heard this pronunciation while watching 'Midsomer Murders' (Sauce for the Goose). The producers seemed to want to emphasize the pronunciation, as they displayed the character's name - 'Ralph Plumber' - in writing - twice during the show.

But, I wonder if this pronuciation is not in keeping with the British avoidance of the nasal 'r', such as in the word girl pronounced as 'gal'.

Virtual Linguist

Yes, you might be right, Bill. I haven't seen the Midsomer Murders episode you mention but have just looked up the synopsis and see that the character called Ralph was a factory owner, so I suppose the pronunciation 'Rafe' shows his and his circle's upper-class status. 'Gal' is fairly posh pronunciation too, isn't it, and rather old-fashioned. I associate it with how the elderly female characters in Agatha Christie's books eg Miss Marple's friends pronounce 'girl'. Younger people these days in the London area don't pronounce the 'r' in girl either, but it sounds more like 'gel' with a hard g (like golf) and a long 'e' said with spread lips.

red bottom sole

I like the writing structure of your blog and it does a pretty decent job of presenting the material.

Colin Lees

With the modern exception of Ralph Feinnes, the most famous Ralph (to rhyme with 'waif') is British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Like Feinnes, however, Vaughan Williams had a distinctly 'top-drawer' background, being closely related to both Charles Darwin and the Wedgewood pottery family. This may support the view that this pronunciation is an upper class affectation.

Virtual Linguist

Yes, good point, Colin. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Paul W.

I read today in a vocal anthology that pronouncing Ralph Vaughan Williams' name as "Rafe" was a "pretentious misapprehension." However, just now I read this on Englishforums.com: "Vaughan Williams pronounced his name "Rafe" and hated it being pronounced "Ralph"." Well, there we are.

Linda Anfuso

I suggest that the comedy film "King Ralph" acknowledges the upper-middle-class pretentious pronunciation, and lampoons it by pronouncing the lower-class American heir's name in the working class manner.

I suspect that the English pronunciation is partly due to the scarcity of this dipthong occurring at the end of a word. The name Alfred gives the tongue a chance to pause ever so slightly between the "l" and the "f", whereas Ralph is too abrupt to permit the tongue to linger on the roof of the mouth before changing position to make the final "f" sound.

Does this, I wonder, have any connection to why a single hoof multiplies into hooves, but roof becomes roofs?

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, Linda. Very good points.

Rick Ritchie

Both Rafe and Ralph can be nicknames for Rafael.

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, Rick.

Abby Yost


Here is a good explanation of the history of the [reif] pronunciation

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, Abby. Very interesting!


I am nearly 70 years old, and not until recently have I heard Ralph ( Ralf), pronounced Rafe. When being taught reading at school, the teacher always pronounced Ralph as Ralf. Perhaps the gentry don't understand plain English.


There is also a regional pronunciation in the USA of 'roof' to rhyme with 'hoof'. (And then there is also the pronunciation of 'cooper'.) I think it is a midwestern or perhaps Missouri pronunciation, but I'm not sure. (Some folks from Missouri also pronounce 'horses' as 'harses'.) I was taught this is in a speech class in college as a theatre major, but that was quite a while ago. I was also taught "correct southern speech" -- this was in the south -- in which most 'R's" are not pronounced either: 'butter' was 'buttah', 'mother' was 'mothah', and 'girl' would be a very subtle pronunciation, not quite 'gull' but not quite 'gal' either, unless you mean something different by 'gal' than I do. Somewhere in between the two. A much more relaxed pronunciation than the British. Basically, we were taught that "correct" southern speech was very much like drawled British. But very few southerners speak this way anymore. I think upper class natives of New Jersey used to have a dialect somewhat similar to that of the south. There are still a few who speak this way, but not many.

Stiggle Ralphs

My Surname is RALPHS, with the added 's' It was pronounced raeffes as waiffes etc. However, so many people call me Ralph that after almost 60 years of saing 'No, my surname name is Ralphs but pronounced Raeffes' I have given up. I still have friends (?) Who I have known for 50 years who still think my christian name is Ralph... people are just stupid, live with it, I do. Just don't call me lateforbreakfast.


My maternal family is Ralph, of Norse extraction, and more recently from Lilleshall, Staffs (Danelaw?). Although their name is commonly pronounced as for Alf, its origin is Norse. In that region, the name Rafe is common, and is the origin of that of Ralph. How and when – or why – the spelling changed, we do not know.

Dick Swenson

Rafe also seems to be a legitimate name, perhaps only in Australia

The episode "Landing Zone" of the series "The Coroner" (BBC now cancelled) has a character whose name is spelled as Rafe. His origin is claimed to be from Oz.

Dick Swenson
Walla Walla

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, Dick, and others. Yes, Rafe seems to becoming a legitimate name in its own right. And it's not only in Australia; there's a fairly well-known British actor called Rafe Spall. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Marcie Redford

Why do you think Ralph is pronounced Rafe? Because, he is British for God's sake! You wouldn't call a British man the American name Ralph. That is not how it is for Brits.

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