About International RELF Society

The International RELF Society was founded in 1990.  We are affiliated to the Guild Of One-Name Studies.

The Relf Society was formed in 1990 and was renamed the following year to the “International Relf Society” in recognition of the burgeoning international membership. A Newsletter was started in the winter of 1990 and four issues per year of the “The Wolf Pack” have been published ever since. The Society broadened its research to include the more common variants of the Relf surname such as Relfe, Realf, Riulf, and Relph – and surnames such as Ralph and Rolph/Rolf(e) are also monitored by the society.

One of the aims of the International Relf Society is to foster the study of the Relf surname and its variants with the intention of sponsoring the publication of definitive research where appropriate.The Society has a reunion  with an AGM each year in September.

Variants

Charles Relf (1841-1923)

Currently RELFE, REALF, RIULF, RELPH are the main variants accepted.

RALPH is often a derivative but it and ROLPH/ROLF(E) also have separate derivations and are often confused with RELF variants. We therefore monitor all these names.

While this web page shows mainly Family History interests the Society does have information on some family names that are not included here.

Name Origin

The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames simply defines ‘Relf’ as a Sussex name. Certainly the first trace of the name so far discovered is of a John Relf listed in the 1197 Subsidy Rolls for Sussex (Lewes Record Office). The next trace is in the 1397 Sussex Subsidy Rolls. Subsequently, the name crops up fairly regularly, and a large number of Relfs still live in Sussex. But the name can also be found in most parts of the world where European influence has achieved significance. There is evidence that it extends to the North American Indians and Relfs have married into Burmese, Sikh and other diverse cultures.

The name Relf is indubitably also of Scandinavian origin. It is found in Old Norse as Hrolfe, in Old Swedish and Old Danish as Rolf, and means ‘wolf’. It was imported into France during the various Nordic invasions, where it became an hereditary surname encouraged by the legalization of hereditary descent of fiefdoms. In AD 877 it became permissible in law for a son to inherit the fief of his father and with it he usually took also the family surname. In AD 911, Rolf (spelled Relf in some sources) became the first Duke of Normandy and it became a fashionable name. No doubt a number of Rolfs followed close behind William the Conqueror on the march against England in AD 1066, and later settled in the plundered lands; others would follow later to join their relatives, and for this reason to this day most Relfs and similar names are found in the south east of England.

Historical Occurrences Of The Name

There are a number of Relfs who were men of substance, iron founders in particular. These include:

  • In 1634, the Heralds Visitation to Sussex recorded a grant of arms to William Relfe of Mayfield. William Relf purchased the Lordship of the Manor of Ashburnham but was forced to sell it only a few years later.
  • Keith Relf of the Yardbirds 1943 – 1976. Keith Relf was actually William Keith Relf – born, probably in Richmond, Surrey on 22 March 1943, the eldest child and only son of William Arthur P Relf and his wife, Mary E Vickers.
  • Harry Relph, known on the stage as ‘Little Tich’, (July 21, 1867 – February 10, 1928) was an English music hall comedian.
  • Pocahontas (c. 1595 – March 21, 1617) was a Native American woman who married an Englishman, John Rolfe, and became a celebrity in London in the last year of her life. She was a daughter of Wahunsunacawh (also known as Chief or Emperor Powhatan).

William Keith Relf (1943-1976)

Distribution Of The Name

The present distribution of RELF(E) in the UK is very markedly south-eastern, with the great majority of persons of that name living in Kent, Sussex, London, and part of Essex. The highest frequency of RELPHS is in the Lake District with a slight concentration in the south-east of England. 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. 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.

Name Frequency

There are currently over 5,000 Relf(e)s alive in the UK. The frequency of the Relf name (and its variants) from the 1841 to 1911 UK censuses are as follows:

Surname19111901189118811871186118511841
Relf1,3691,092944833625440559442
Relfe1038111011178566561
Relph779469559497547333479454
Realf2123391621121714

Other names being monitored:

Surname19111901189118811871186118511841
Rolfe5,8214,9054,3143,8643,1592,0372,4052,129
Ralph5,9904,3364,7844,1643,5883,1742,6492,328
Rolph1,5701,3561,3021,0991,020726691645

The frequency of these names in the UK can be established from a 2002 database from the Office of National Statistics. This shows the current UK population and UK ranking to be as follows:

SurnameNumberRanking
Relf1,5204,704
Relph1,0836,234
Relfe9334,663
Realf3168,493

Other names being monitored:

SurnameNumberRating
Ralph7,8521,009
Rolfe6,9471,135
Rolph1,9723,745