The baby name Raphael feels romantic and traditional, plus it’s nicely underused.
Thanks to Natalie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Raphael means “God heals.”
He’s an archangel, and a major figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As religious figures go, he’s well-known. John Milton included him in Paradise Lost. The television series Supernatural gave us a version of Raphael, too.
A handful of additional saints Raphael have been recorded, but odds are that many of the places are named for the angel. There’s more than one Saint-Raphaël in French-speaking countries, as well as several San Rafaels through the Spanish-speaking world.
Then there’s Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael.
A prolific artist, the architect and painter helped define the High Renaissance in Italy. A contemporary of Michelangelo and da Vinci, he’s a master of the era.
Perhaps Raffaello isn’t quite as well known as some of his contemporaries. But a 1980s animated series putting them back on equal footing.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted way back in 1984. While the series has been rebooted, it’s never really gone away.
The premise? A quartet of turtles, exposed to the same radioactive isotopes that created comic book hero Daredevil, meet up with a wise sensei, who happens to be a rat, in the sewers of New York. They grow into pizza-loving crimefighters. The rat – Splinter – named them after Renaissance artists: Michaelangelo (a typo that stuck), Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael.
That makes the name instantly familiar to a generation – and counting.
BY THE NUMBERS
The baby name Raphael has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since 1901, and most years before that.
But it’s never been common.
It rose in use in the late 1980s, into 1990 – suggesting that the turtles did encourage parents to consider the name. (Or maybe not. The very similar Gabriel entered the Top 100 in the 1970s. It’s not a stretch to discover Raphael from the similar-sounding Gabriel.)
The baby name Raphael now hovers in the 500s. That makes it familiar, but far from common.
And yet, in plenty of languages, the name is far more common.
Rafael – the Spanish spelling – outranks Raphael, and has for years. It’s been a Top 300 name since the 1960s, even reaching the Top 200 a few times.
That makes Rafael the logical brother name for Isabella and Sofia, a crossover that feels obviously Spanish, but easily worn in English.
RAFE AND RALPH
Rafael shortens to Rafi and Rafa, but we also call Rafael and Raphael by another nickname: Rafe.
We also sometimes pronounce the German Ralph the same way. Think Ralph Fiennes. But the names have completely separate origins.
There’s also a similar Arabic name, Raef, again not linked to Raphael or Ralph.
Despite the name’s relatively rare status in the US, Raphael and Rafael are global citizens, names heard ’round the world.
It’s as romantic as Romeo, and yet Rafe makes Rafael as accessible as Gabriel and Gabe, or Michael and Mike.
If you’re hunting for something with a certain pan-European flair and a long history of use, the baby name Raphael is certainly one to consider.
First published on May 28, 2008, this post was updated on July 29, 2020.
My name is Rafael, and i grew up in a spanksh speaking household, so my “true” name is Rrrah-fa-eL in spanish. Somehow from that i started introducing myself as you indicated when i was meeting people in english on my own. People usually end up pronoucing it the traditional way even though i had stated it your way. But it doesnt make impact, and i happen to go by Rafa anyway, due to being a junior. Maybe thats why i reverse engineered Rah-fee-el when left to my own devices? Never considered it til now!
Raffaello Frigo says
My name is Raffaello . Raf for my Friends .
Bernadette Hilario says
My son is Rafael Victor and we nicknamed him “Rio” (long story but it’s in honor of my grandfather Sergio – combined “R” with “io” AND not sure how I missed it, but “RIO” is the last 3 letters of MY last name – haha!). When we were considering nicknames for Rafael, I wanted Rafa (Rafa Nadal, anyone?) but it didn’t really stick. How I wish I’d seen this site when I was naming my babies back in 2008!
Thinking about this for a boy… Has anyone heard of the pronunciation RAY-fee-el? Would you still spell it Raphael? I prefer that pronunciation to Rah-fie-EL, and it’s easier to get Rafe from that.
My son is Rafael and we call him Rafi 50% of the time. My husband was partial to the f spelling vs the ph. We love it’s cross cultural appeal and it’s romantic, yet masculine sound. In fact, we love it so much that we are having a very hard time coming up with another boys name to join Rafael and big sister Naima. We have tossed around Desmond, Simeon, Conrad? We just don’t love anything like we did Rafael.
Ashleigh, I’ll post a Q on the Facebook page for you!
I am in exactly the same situation at the moment. I have a son named Rafael, Rafi for short, and we just can’t come up with something that we love as much. It’s really tricky!
We considered Raphaella Bathsheba (Surname), for a little girl, despite it’s overly religious tones. The only reason we changed our minds was because Raphael in male or female form is quite predominant in Hispanic communities. People, upon hearing that it was a name we were considering, asked if we were Spanish/Hispanic, and we are not. So it lead to us changing our minds and scratching it off our list. I have to admit, it would be hard to imagine Raphaella on a Platinum hair and fair skinned child.
My grandson is Raef I think it is a beautiful name for a boy a proper boys name when his name was announced it got a mixed response from family and friends but now everyone likes it also we had never heard of another child called Raef but since he arrived two people I know have had boys in there extended family and they have been called Raef/Rafe. I just hope it dosnt become to popular.
I think Raphael is safe from being immediately turtle-ized, if only because it’s so popular. Donatello, though, is probably hopeless 🙂
Sarah A says
Rafferty is nice, but I would never use it. Question: Do you think Raphael will become quite popular soon? We’re about 3 years away from having kids and I think Raphael nn Rafi has major potential for us…
I cannot get past TMNT. I do love the nn Rafe though. How’s about Rafferty?
Sarah A says
I agree that the TMNT association is something a lot of people can’t get past, but for me it’s not problematic because it’s not a negative association. Rafferty is nice, but it sounds too British for me. Also, I prefer to stay away from ‘y’ or ‘ee’ endings for boys. I think Raphael is the best way to get to nn Rafi and Rafe.
I don’t get TMNT from Raphael. I think of it, but it is my fourth or fifth association. The first is a local photographer, who answers to Raphi. But then there’s the archangel and the painter, and Ralph Fiennes, who pronounces his first name Rafe. And then maybe the turtle. But then, I’m 37 and was just a smidge too old for TMNT. Maybe a few years younger and that would be my first thought …
I like Rafferty – and despite Jude Law using it for his son, I haven’t met one.
Sarah A says
Yay, I found one of my favorite names! I first thought of Raphael because I love the Arabic name Rafi, but I think it’s too short and the ‘ee’ ending doesn’t age well. Raphael fits the bill because he is religious but not too common. I would hesitate to put one name on the birth certificate with the intention of actually calling the child something else, but my husband is a Michael who goes exclusively by Mike and he’s assured me it’s fine. All in all, I can definitely see us using Raphael and calling him Rafi; I just have to convince the hubby that Raphael is not only for Ninja Turtles 🙂
Just thought to look for Raphael, how in the world did I miss him?!?
Raphael’s a long time love of mine. Even as a kid, he was my favorite Archangel! Yeah, He’s a love all right, but still a long shot for me; the Mr. thinks he’s too religious for us.I think the point is moot, especially with boys who have Pope names!
*shrug* If I get the chance to sneak it in, I absolutely will!
Raphael and Gabriel, oh my! Lovely names, but I wonder if their father is Michael? 🙂
I know a couple of little ones who bear that moniker, memorably one also has a little brother called Gabriel just like the archangels! While I would never choose Raphael – it’s just not me – I am quite fond of it. As for Gabriel – I love that!
I am always in search of NotDs! At the moment, the calendar is filled through June 12 – but that’s a mere two weeks’ worth. Funny you should ask, because I was just trying to decide *when* to post another call for suggestions. But yes, either reply to the original post, or any NotD post really.
As for St. Raphael’s, we actually belonged to a St. Raphael’s parish a few years ago. I called it St. Rafe’s – which my husband thought was quite irreverent and possibly soul-damaging. So far, I have not been struck by lightning.
St. Raphael of Brooklyn has a really quirky rhythm to it, doesn’t it? Love it!
Oh no! The secret’s out!
Seriously, Raphael is gorgeous, it’s high on my own list. I love its meaning and its soft sounds for a boy. Somehow it manages to still stay strong. Rapha