Spotlight on: Rafe

Australian Musician Rafe Morris

Australian Musician Rafe Morris

Rafe is a hip vintage name with an easy-going personality. This is an awesome find—an easy-wear name with a funky style along the lines of other masculine R-names such as Rafferty, Roscoe, Rufus, and Rupert. The letter R on boys is beginning to take on an artsy, boyish appeal—at least for me.

What sets Rafe apart from these other R names, however, is Rafe seems more likely to be accepted in locales where hipster names aren’t accepted. If you love east coast names but live on the west coast, maybe Rafe is for you.

Rafe achieves a balance between the Atticus’ and the Wyatt’s, while still generating surprise, and does all of this effortlessly. Rafe has a style similar to Nick, but Rafe is a lot more original and maybe just slightly more intellectual, but not so intellectual to come off as pretentious. Rafe belongs to a group of names I call the “motorcycle-riding poets’ society”, a group of names that would fit 50’s beatnik characters. Right now this group of names consists of two: Julius and Rafe. I’ll let you know once I add to the list.

The name is rare, given only to 78 newborn boys in 2011. Long ago, Rafe had a very brief visit to the top 1000, at #809 back in 1880, the earliest year baby name statistics are available from the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Over the past decade, Rafe’s popularity has held steady (since Rafe is outside the top 1000, these numbers aren’t ranks but number of babies):

Year No. of Babies
2001 41
2002 99
2003 92
2004 54
2005 63
2006 55
2007 64
2008 48
2009 94
2010 66
2011 78

Rafe is a form of Ralph, the phonetic spelling, most common in the 17th century. Both RAYF and RALF are acceptable pronunciations for Ralph. Reportedly, Welsh actor Ralph Fiennes pronounces his first name like Rafe.

Rafe is more well-known in England. There is an English actor, Rafe Spall who may not be a household name in the U.S., but is known in the U.K. for his role in the U.K. sitcom, Pete Versus Life. While the name is more familiar in England, it is not terribly common in the U.K. either, but is more popular there than in the U.S. in proportion to the population. In 2011 there were 59 boys in U.K. named Rafe, giving it a rank of #588, which it shares with a few other names.

Rafe may see its most immediate success in another English-speaking country, Australia. I base this theory on how many times Rafe appears in Australian birth announcements on Australian baby name blog, Waltzing More Than Matilda. Rafe appeared in these announcements three times in the past year, each time as an older sibling. I can’t claim my method is 100% scientific, but considering the country’s relatively small population, I suspect these numbers are enough to suggest Rafe may at least have an up-and-coming presence in Australia. Time will tell.

Rafe has also been cited as a form of Rafael and a diminutive of Rafferty. For those seeking a long form for Rafe, both Rafael and Rafferty are as good as any. But I feel short names are just as distinguished as longer ones, and feel the name works well as a stand alone name.

The name’s single syllable also make it the perfect connector middle name. For those looking for an easy middle name that is more original than John or James, Rafe is a great candidate.

Other than Rafe Spall, there is Rafe Alston, a basketball player, Rafe Morris, an Australian singer-songwriter, and a famous fictional Rafe, Ben Affleck’s character in Pearl Harbor, Rafe McCawley.

If Ben Affleck can pull off a name, then it must have a refined masculinity, in my opinion. I can picture Rafe on a little boy or a grown man. I can also picture Rafe on a lawyer or a construction worker. Stylish and versatile, this unusual short name has potential to become an up-and-coming hit.

Readers: What do you think of Rafe?

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  1. ‘Rafe has a style similar to Nick, but Rafe is a lot more original and maybe just slightly more intellectual, but not so intellectual to come off as pretentious. Rafe belongs to a group of names I call the “motorcycle-riding poets’ society”, a group of names that would fit 50’s beatnik characters. Right now this group of names consists of two: Julius and Rafe. I’ll let you know once I add to the list.’

    Um, I love this motorcycle-riding poets’ society list, especially since Julius is a family name we’ve discussed using. Watching this space…

  2. It’s cute, but sounds horrific with our last name. I much prefer the sound of Rafe to Ralph, and honestly find the Rafe pronounciation with the Ralph spelling just baffling. I can’t think of a language where those pronounciation rules apply.

    • I don’t like Rafe or Ralph with F-last names. For the longest time I thought Ralph Fiennes was Ray Fiennes. I’m not exactly sure where Rafe for Ralph came from, but it almost sounds as if the L sounds like a Y, like in Spanish(?). Sort of like Ray-f. But I am not aware of any language with a silent L.

      • The pronunciation of English has changed a LOT over the years! 🙂

      • I know it’s very subjective, but Rafe Huff sounds terrible to me, where Fiona Huff sounds fine. I think it’s the syllables separating the Fs. Fs are a hard one for me. I grew up Kayt C@lder, and it sounds fine to me. I think the alliteration of K sounds are less cartoonish to my ear than the F sounds. Does that make any sense?

        • I know what you mean by some alliteration sounds working while others don’t. I happen to like repeating m’s but not repeating d’s.

          As for Fiona H-ff, I think that sounds nice but I agree Rafe H-ff doesn’t work.

  3. I suspect the Rafes you saw in BAs were using a nickname for a name such as Rafferty or Rafael; Raf names are still quite fashionable.

    However I do love the idea of using Rafe as a full name on its own. It’s a really handsome name, and I would definitely consider using it.

  4. Rafe is quite handsome and I really like it enough that I might use it one day. But there has been some negative backlash on this one (on online forums) because people believe its too similar to the word rape. This has sort of dampened my enthusiasm but I wouldn’t say it was too similar.

  5. We named our son Rafe, and we’ve never had a negative reaction to it. Always a lot of compliments on it though. Even the kids at school all tell him that his name is cool.

    • We also named our son Rafe. It gets mispronounced all the time, but I usually get positive reactions also. I love this name!

  6. Me and my girlfriend were watching Pearl Harbor and as soon as we heard Rafe we loved it. We’re only newly pregnant but if we have a boy Rafe is our choice. It’s not going down well with others and have had the Rafe/Rape connection pointed out, I don’t see it at all. It’s a great, strong, masculine name and its ‘wolf’ meaning makes it even better for me as I love wolves

  7. My Rafe is 12 years old now and likes his name! Yes, people often start off pronouncing it like, Raf-fay or Raffi- but soon enough they catch on. I like that its simple, unique, a little sophisticated and while it is uncommon, it’s not made up!

  8. I named my son Rafe in 2011 my Great-Grandad was Ralph and I wanted to honour him but mix it up a little.

    I love the name, unusual but not out there, it got a mixed reaction from family, it does seem to have grown on some, but is a love/hate name.

    Be prepared for people pronouncing it wrong I have heard Rayphy, Raff also Raphie, I find this baffling but amusing.

    I also feel when I thought of Rafe, that he could be anything with that name, and have since heard a few other people say that. A couple of people think its an actors/performers name.

    I love that people have said its a handsome name! I found it Stong and masculine.

    As for the Rafe/Rape thing, I thinks thats people just looking for a way to critsize and would do so with any name.

  9. My third child is Rafe, maybe you are correct about it being more popular in Australia, although we know of others called Rafferty, Rafik, Raphael, but so far no other Rafes ( mine is now 5). He is usually called Rafey and we have had lots of positive feedback.

  10. I first heard this name on andy griffith show. Rafe looks and sounds too close to “rape”.

  11. My name is Rafe


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