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Recorded in over fifty different spellings including as examples Rolf, Roffe, Ruff and Ruffell in England, Rudolf and Rotlauf in Germany, Rohlf in Switzerland, Ridulfo and Firidolfi in Italy, and Roelof in the Netherlands, this is a surname of pre 7th century Nordic-Viking origins. It derives ultimately from the personal name 'Hrodwulf', itself from the period in history known as The Dark Ages, when names were largely pagan in ancestry, and tended to extoll the undoubted virtues of godliness, strength and purpose. This particular name was composed of the elements "hrod", meaning "renown" and "wulf", literally the wolf, and originally may have referred to a particular warrior or chieftain. In the Norse language the contracted form was "Hrolfr", and in Danish and Swedish "Rolf", and it was in these forms that they reached Northern Europe in the 8th century. It is not absolutely certain as to the first recording date of the hereditary surname, but it was amongst the earliest of all surnames. Examples taken from authentic rolls and charters of the medieval period include: Johan Rodolfi of Hamburg, Germany, in 1252, Robert Rolf, of Battle, in the county of Sussex, England, in 1272, Jakob Rufi, given as being a priest in Zurich, Switzerland, in the year 1300, and Johan Rudolf of Andelshoven, Germany, in 1332. In the church registers of London, England, the marriage of John Roffe and Elizabeth Blythe was recorded at St. Stephan's, Coleman Street, on November 3rd 1560. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop", often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

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