A couple of different paths of thought led me to profile Ralph today. One is that I recently saw 'Wreck-It Ralph' again for the second time, and I am still just as in love with it as I was the first time I saw it. And the second is a recent post I did on the name Barney.
Not only could Barney and Ralph be brothers, it also strikes me that these two names have a lot of similarities. Both are well recognised names that have long been popular. Both have often appeared on characters that while lovable, tend not to be the hunkiest or most heroic. But just as the character Barney Stinson is helping to make Barney cool and likable again, 'Wreck-It Ralph' could also have a positive impact in the way we view the name Ralph.
Ralph has historically been quite a popular name. In the US it was a top 100 name from 1880 until 1963, but has slowly been moving down. In 2011 it was raked at #953, dangerously close to slipping out of the top 1000. The name Ralph evolved from Old Norse, Norman and Germanic roots. In each case it is a compound of two words meaning counsel and wolf, hence it has the meaning 'wolf counsel'.
It's meaning coveys a somewhat sophisticated and clever image, and several real life Ralphs also help to lend some class and substance to the name. Think fashion designer Ralph Lauren, American activist Ralph Nader, or Transcendentalism leader Ralph Waldo Emerson. British Ralphs - actor Ralph Fiennes and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams - take it up yet another level by pronouncing Ralph as Rafe, rather than Ralf, which has a sexier sound and feel.
However it is the pop culture and colloquial Ralph's that have most likely been leading to the drop in popularity for this name. Unfortunately, "to ralph" is a slang term for vomiting (something which is not as much of an issue if you use the British Rafe pronunciation) which is not a likable association. And fictional Ralphs have often portrayed an image of well meaning but not too bright. Some of the most recognised fictional Ralphs include 'Happy Days' funny but silly sidekick Ralph Malph, American slob turned heir to the throne 'King Ralph', played by John Goodman, sweet but clueless Ralph Wiggum of 'The Simpsons' and Ralph Kramden, the blustery short tempered main character in the classic TV show 'The Honeymooners'.
'Wreck-It Ralph' introduces people to a Ralph who it still sweet and well meaning, but a bit smarter and less of a comedic caricature. If you haven't seen the movie, Ralph's job is to continuously wreck a building so the hero Fix-It Felix can save the day for the people that live in the building. Ralph feels that even though he has a job that other people don't like, it's an important job and doesn't mean that he is a bad guy. So he sets out to win a medal to prove that he to can be a hero and a good guy that people should want to be friends with. Of course, things don't go quite according to plan, but along the way Ralph learns to like himself and makes his first friends. This movie is also a good lesson not to judge (and exclude) people without getting to know them first.
Maybe the movie won't help Ralph's image as much with adults, but I think it will definitely increase it's cool factor amongst children. Rather than being seen as someone possibly not very bright whose name means vomit, Ralph's could now be seen as strong and heroic. I also think this is a name that could grow well - I love the nickname Ralphie for a young child! And Ralph is a good solid name to have. There is the option to use the Rafe pronunciation, but despite the popularity of actor Ralph Fiennes I'm not sure how well this would go outside Britain. Most likely you'd either be constantly correcting people on their pronunciation if they say it written, or saying "no, that's not short for Raphael/Rafael" when introduced verbally.
However you prefer to pronounce it, I think signs are good that Ralph is due for a comeback.