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The English family name Relph is classified as being of personal name origin. According to scholars the oldest and most pervasive type of surname is that derived from a personal name. Such family names may be derived from a parental first name or from the front name of the grandfather, or indeed a more remote ancestor of the original bearer of the surname. In this case, the surname Relph is derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Richolf, derived from the Old German Ricwulf, meaning power wolf. The form Riulf from the Old French became popular at a later stage, probably due to the Normans who settled in England in the eleventh century. Variants of the surname Relph include Relf, Relfe and Realff.

One of the earliest references to this surname or to its variants is a record of one Robert Realf who resided in Sussex in 1327. The modern spelling of most English surnames is comparatively recent and is found in parish registers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The son of John Relph was christened in Saint Alphage's Church, in Greenwich, in October, 1655. Alice Relph of Westhouse, Charntan-in-Consdale, Yorkshire, was born circa 1656. Abraham Relph, son of John and Elizabeth Relph, was christened in Meeting House-Independent Church, Huddlesceugh, in Cumberland, on 17 March, 1714. Another Abraham Relph, son of Francis and Ann Relph, was christened in Gwennap, in Cornwall, on 13 May 1770. Ada Mary Relph, daughter of William and Mary Relph, was christened in Saint Peter's Church, in Liverpool, on 21 August, 1861.