How to pronounce Ralph Denham
August 31, 2014 9:28 AM   Subscribe

In Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day how was Ralph Denham’s first name likely to be pronounced? Like Ralph (Rayf) Fiennes or Ralph (Ralf) Wiggum? I don’t know if this would have been important – or obvious? – to early 20thC readers, but feels like an interesting social signifier.
posted by Huw to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
In HMS Pinafore, Ralph Rackstraw is pronounced Rafe to rhyme with waif, and the character is shown at first to be a humble seaman, but is revealed to be of higher station.

In time each little waif
Forsook his foster-mother,
The well born babe was Ralph
Your captain was the other!!!

Ralph Denham is a law clerk, perhaps middle-class. His fiance, Katharine, dislikes his large family and their vulgar tastes.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:07 AM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I cannot imagine Woolf's voice saying "Ralf." I think it's got to be "Rayf."
posted by ocherdraco at 10:39 AM on August 31, 2014

There's a good discussion here (including some important whys). Since this pronunciation was favored in the Middle and South of England, and those dialects formed the basis for the standard "upper-crust" accent known as RP (received pronunciation), and Woolf is speaking a very plummy form of RP in that clip, I think the assumption is ... safe ... that she pronounced it "rafe".

It is important to know that Rafe is not the universal pronunciation of the name in all forms of British/Commonwealth English, though. If the Denham character hailed from the North, for example, he may well have pronounced the 'l'. An Oxbridge education, on the other hand, is an important factor in erasing that sort of regionalism and enforcing RP.
posted by dhartung at 1:30 PM on August 31, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm interested because Ralph doesn't - as Ideefixe says - occupy the upper-middle class world of Hilberys where it would definitely be "Rayf". Is he on this cusp of pronunciation with all it can imply? (Nice pun, dhartung.)
posted by Huw at 2:33 PM on August 31, 2014

Ralph Denham is from Highgate. Ralph Rackstraw was dropped off with Little Buttercup, who mixed up the two babies, so he was raised by lower class parents.
But if we say Rafe, shouldn't we say gafe for golf?
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on August 31, 2014

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