I got chatting to the man sitting next to me on the train last night, and he turned out to be the actor Alfred Burke. I had been to the National Theatre and he had recently appeared in a performance of Oedipus there, so he was telling me about working with Ralph Fiennes, who had played the title role. It got me wondering why Ralph is pronounced Rafe (to rhyme with waif) and although I have spent some time researching that point today, I'm still not that much the wiser.
All I can discover is that the pronunciation Rafe is an old British English variant. Many people regard it as an upper-class or 'posh' variant; I remember knowing several Ralphs when I was growing up, but they all pronounced their name to rhyme with Alf. The letter l is often silent in English words, where its function is to indicate a particular pronunciation of the vowel in the word. So, if the words calm, talk, yolk and would didn't contain the l we would want to pronounce them completely differently. The traditional pronunciation of golf is gofe (rhymes with loaf), particularly in Scotland, and this pronunciation is reflected in the name of the Loudon Gowf Club.