At one extreme, this choice is an unfortunate action verb. At the other end? A dashing English actor.
Thanks to Corinne for suggesting Ralph as Name of the Day.
I’m not clear when we started conjugating ralph. In the 1910s and 20s, Ralph was a Top 20 pick, a favorite akin to Nathan today. He fell steadily through the years, plummeting after the 1970s and 80s. (When, I suspect, Ralph morphed from merely out-of-fashion to out-of-the-question.) In 2008 he ranked #868. Though I wonder – how many of those Ralphs are juniors answering to R.J.?
Besides the slang, there’s Chief Wiggum’s oddball son Ralph on The Simpsons; John Goodman’s unlikely monarch in the 1991 movie King Ralph and Jackie Gleason’s legendary Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners. Memorable characters to be sure, but none of them likely to inspire a son’s name.
But there’s also the charming Ralphie, hero of A Christmas Story. Ralph Lauren hasn’t been troubled by his less-than-debonair given name. (Though he did drop his surname, Lifshitz.) Ralph Waldo Emerson is about as admired as can be.
And then there’s Ralph Fiennes.
Don’t call him RALF. He’s RAFE, thanks. And while that might seem affected, it is legitimate. Rádúlfr was brought to England by the Vikings; the Normans simplified it to Radulf. The rad means counsel; the ulf, wolf. Rafe emerged as a diminutive – and that was the spelling and pronunciation in use, along with Ralf. Ralph came into the game only in the last 300 years or so.
If you prefer Rafe, why not use Raphael or Rafael or even, well, Rafe? He’s artistic and angelic and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, too. In the US, the odds of Ralph being pronounced like the actor? They’re not great.
And yet Ralph his history:
- There’s the ninth-century Ralph/Radulf/Raoul, Bishop of Bourges, founder of monasteries. He’s now considered a saint;
- Ralf of Mantes was an English noble in the 1050s, responsible for kicking off castle building pre-Norman invasion;
- Ralph d’Escures was a twelfth-century Archbishop of Canterbury;
- Saint Ralph Crockett was English-born, ordained in France and martyred once he returned to his native land – the year was 1588, and he’d come home to reconvert England under Henry VIII.
Head to a magazine stand in Australia, and you’ll find Ralph Magazine – something akin to Maxim. (Maxim, of course, ranked #701 in the US last year.)
Ralph is also a surname, as is Ralphs – as in entrepreneur and grocer George Ralphs. Head to California, and you can pick up a loaf of bread and a quart of milk at Ralphs. The original location in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village was photographed by Ansel Adams and is now on the National Register of Historic Places – and is no longer a grocery store. But the chain is alive and well, and part of the Kroger family.
None of this necessarily boosts Ralph as a baby name. But perhaps he’ll gain some traction amongst stylish parents in the UK. Actor Matthew McFadyen – you probably remember him as Mr. Darcy, opposite Keira Knightley in 2005’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice but he’s also appeared on the BBC’s MI-5 and Frost/Nixon. He named his daughter Maggie, and his son, Ralph.
So that’s one bright spot for a name that has suffered much indignity in the past few decades. I’m still not sure he’s wearable, even though there are probably a lot of Grandpa Ralphs out there who would argue otherwise.