WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Back in the 15th Century, the first recorded name for what we now call the Ruff was the ‘ree’. It is thought that this name may derive from a dialect word meaning frenzied, referring to the battling at the ‘lek’ (the display ground where males gather to show off and ‘battle’ to impress females). ‘Ree’ eventually became ‘reeve’, which is believed to have derived from a shortening of ‘shire reeve’, which is the name of a county official (with the added influence of the original ree name). This term is the same one which gives rise to sheriff (by contraction) and may have been used for the bird to reflect the flamboyant plumage resembling the official’s garb. Reeve is still in use today (by some birders, at least), but only for the female (and sometimes the juveniles by other birdwatchers). Males have been known as Ruffs since at least 1634, and again take their name from flamboyant clothing, referring to the exaggerated neck frills of the dandy breeding males.