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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.

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