Jude and Rafferty LawEditor’s note: This post was originally published on May 20, 2011.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on May 20, 2o13 – for Julia.

He’s an upbeat surname option with a certain amount of edge.

Thanks to Lemon and Emily for suggesting Rafferty as our Baby Name of the Day.

Three-syllable, ends-in-y surname options like Romilly, Delaney and Bellamy all have a fashionable feel for girls. But Rafferty’s sound is a smidge harsher, and seems more appropriate for a son. He’s less aggressive than Gunner and Slade, but his tough-guy vibe might appeal to parents considering choices like Wyatt and Gage.

Where does Rafferty get his street cred?

The first syllable – raff – brings to mind the word raffish. Jane Austen would tell you that raffish is another word for vulgar – think riffraff. “Raffish charm” means that something is a little rough around the edges, but all the more attractive for the lack of polish. That gritty undertone is what makes Rafferty lean masculine.

Most people will recognize Rafferty as an Irish heritage choice, the kind of surname that fits right in with Riley. Rafferty ultimately comes from Rabhartach, a given name referring to the rising tide, a symbol of prosperity and abundance.

Jude Law chose the name for his son in 1996, lending Rafferty some serious starbaby style. And yet only a handful of boys have been given the name in recent years.  What gives?

While Rafferty’s sound is cheerful and his meaning positive, that air of ne’er-do-well haunts him. The name has been chosen for characters who range from the hapless to the downright unsavory:

  • In Australia, late 1980s television drama Rafferty’s Rules followed the life and times of local magistrate Michael Rafferty. There’s nothing especially untoward about Michael, but the title was borrowed from an Australian phrase. Rafferty’s rules means no rules. It’s somewhere between total chaos and gentle lawlessness. There’s a vintner known as Rafferty’s Rules Wines, too.
  • There’s a spectacularly violent minor comic book character from the 1990s.
  • Along the same lines, Sin City’s bad guy, Jackie Boy, is Jack Rafferty. Benecio del Torro played the villainous cop-gone-bad in the 2005 film adaptation.
  • On a lighter note, Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty was part of Stealers Wheel in the 1970s – but their hit single “Stuck in the Middle With You” is famous for being in the violent breakthrough Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs.
  • There’s also Chips Rafferty, an Australian actor, born John Goffage. His career spanned from the 1940s through the 1960s, including an appearance with Elvis Presley in 1967’s Double Trouble.
  • Then there’s 1975’s Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins, a mostly forgotten movie featuring Alan Arkin as a former Marine-turned-driving instructor who heads off on a road trip with two women. It’s memorable mostly because it was an early Jerry Bruckheimer project.

While names like Damien and Regan have been boosted by unlikely uses, Rafferty seems held back by pop culture – or at least not helped by it. And yet no single Rafferty is so dastardly as to render the name unwearable.

File Rafferty with Crosby, Huxley, and Murphy – new surname names that just might work.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I do love this name. I couldn’t use it because it pairs terribly with my surname, although I might be able to get away with the shorter Rafe in the mn slot.

  2. I have a 2 month old Rafferty, so I obviously love the name! We call him “Raff” a lot of the time- it’s easier for my three year old to handle.=)

    1. Aw, I have a Rafferty too! Rafferty James, turned 5 in September. He fits his name so well, all the ladies adore him and I can’t say we’ve really met another yet. It’s the best!

  3. Love, love, love Rafferty. Great sound, great nickname–I’d choose Rafe. Rough and tumble and roguish. So awesome.

  4. Oohh, I love Rafferty! It isn’t high on my list, but I do love it-with Rafe as a nickname. I would love to meet a little Rafferty-as long as it’s a boy. I really, really hope this one doesn’t go to the girls. I love Reilly for a boy, but I am very sad it has gone to the girls so quickly.

  5. I so love Rafferty! It’s on our list for the baby if it’s a boy. I don’t love that Rosy and Rafferty both start with R, but I think Rafferty is so cute.