"Distribution of Variants of the Relf Name"  
by Steve Chapman

Based on an article which first appeared in the "The Wolfpack" - the magazine of the International Relf Society - in 1991, and reprinted in July 1994.

Many surnames originate from particular areas, and locating such areas can provide useful clues for the family historian. Despite the greater mobility of people since the Industrial Revolution, and as because of two world wars many names still show distinct regional distributions within the British Isles.

Telephone Directories provide a valuable means of examining such patterns. In the early days of the telephone, names in directories were biased towards the more affluent sections of society, but today such data are much more reliable.

The unit of frequency used in the accompanying maps is the number of entries of the surname per 100,000 entries in a particular area.

The maps show quite different distributions, but with interesting similarities. Whilst each name is absent from some areas, only three directory areas (Mansfield, N W Wales, and Harrogate) can be designated as "Relf Free Zones".

Distribution of RELF
[For full size left click on image]

The present distribution of RELF(E) is very markedly south-eastern, with the great majority of persons of that name living in Kent, Sussex, London, and part of Essex.

Distribution of RALPH(E)
[For full size left click on image]

The highest frequency of RELPHS is in the Lake District with a slight concentration in the south-east of England.

Distribution of RALPH(E)
[For full size left click on image]

The more abundant name RALPH(E) again shows a concentration in the Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury, Medway, and North-East Surrey telephone areas. However, there are also concentrations of this form of the name in Hull, and in the Shrewsbury, Hereford & Mid-Wales areas.

Distribution of ROLF
[For full size left click on image]

The ROLF(PH) name is now much less widespread, but shows hot spots in London and the Isle of Wight.

Whilst interesting, these distributions must be treated with caution from an historical point of view. Anyone who has looked for RELFs in parish registers from south-east England will know that the name was often spelt in several different ways, and it was common to find families generally referred to as RELF, appearing as RELPH, ROLPH or even ROFF in the same register. To a certain extent the present patterns of distribution of names have evolved since the Victorian pre-occupation with "correct" spelling. It would be interesting to examine the occurrence of the various forms of RELF in both space and time.

Standardised spelling has severely inhibited the evolution of new names, and the advent of smaller families has increased the chance of less common names going extinct. Lets hope that holders of the RELF variants are doing their bit to ensure survival into the future.

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Page last revised 28th January 2000

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