This interesting name is of Old Norse origin, introduced into England by the Viking invaders and settlers of the 9th and 10th Centuries. The modern surname Ralph and its many variant forms, such as Ralf(e), Rafe, Raff, Ralls, Raw(e), Rau, and Rawle(s), derives from the Old Norse personal name 'Radulfr', composed of the Germanic elements 'rad', counsel, advice, and 'wolf', wolf. The personal name became particularly popular after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with the introduction of the Old French form of the name 'Raoul' and the Norman 'Radulf' and 'Raulf'. In early records the name was invariably Latinized as 'Radulfus', as in the first recording below. The development of the surname includes Richard Rau (1212, Norfolk), Adam Rauf (1275, ibid.), Simon Raulf (1296, Sussex) and John Ralf (1327, ibid.). The variant form 'Rau' was re-introduced into England by French Huguenot refugees during the late 16th Century: one Jean, son of Jacques and Jeanne Rau, was christened on October 29th 1637 at the Threadneedle Street French Huguenot Church in London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Johannes Radulphus, which was dated 1186, in the Documents from the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, during the reign of King Henry 11, known as 'The Builder of Churches', 1154-1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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