Irregular spellings are old news in brand names. Sometimes the spelling is simplified or compressed: Google (modified from googol), Millenia (an erstwhile Mazda luxury model), Flickr, Segway. Occasionally the spelling is tweaked to make the name stand out or to finagle an available URL: Qollage, Topix, Digg, Gliider.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed a new spelling trend: the doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling of one particular letter—F—at the beginning of the name.
Here are the names I’ve encountered:
FFFavs: Brand new (founded February 2011). Neither the website nor CrunchBase has any information yet.
FFFFound: An image-bookmarking service.
FFFFoundtape: A defunct audio-bookmarking service. Interesting because its logo depicted all four Fs with backward-facing characters (a bad omen, it seems).
Why is it called fflap? We would like you to create a fflap about your eBay listings (verb. the act of waving or fluttering, causing a commotion, attracting attention) and we thought that this perfectly sums up what we would like the platform to achieve. And why do we have the second ‘f’ in fflap? You ever seen a bird with one wing? Exactly…
(A birdbrained theory of orthography, to say the least.)
fflick: “Organizes social media data, filters and analyzes information, and presents it in a way that is consumable and relevant.” Recently acquired by Google or YouTube, depending on the source you consult.
ffflourish: “Asks you to share the naturally healthy things you’re doing right now.” No revenue model in evidence.
ffwd: “Discoveries at the edge of video.”
That’s a striking number of names with a very unusual spelling feature. Only ffwd has what I’d consider a legitimate basis for its spelling: It’s the abbreviation for “fast forward,” a connection made obvious in the logo:
But what about all the other multiple-F names?
Could the F-fest come from the study of music? In musical notation, ff means “fortissimo”—very loud—and additional Fs indicate extra degrees of loudness. A new business might want to make some noise (ffanfare?) with a loud name.
Or are the unusual names motivated by iconoclasm—that frequently hyped out-of-the-box thinking? Double-F is common enough in the middle of English words and certain borrowings (difficult, effect, baffle, chauffeur) and at the ends of words (off, cliff, stuff, riffraff). But double-F is never seen at the beginning of English words. If you’ve seen it at all, it’s been in certain Anglo-Saxon personal names such as ffolkes (often spelled all lower-case) or in Welsh place names such as Ffestiniog. (Ff is a separate letter in the Welsh alphabet, pronounced like English f. F in Welsh is pronounced like English v.)
Multiple Fs are also part of the hexadecimal color code. In hexadecimal, the letters A through F represent the numbers 10 through 15. #FFFFFF is white, for example, and #FFFFCC is something called “papaya whip.”
When I tweeted my preliminary thoughts about multiple-F-fronted names, several of my followers proposed that we were seeing what might be called the Jasper Fforde Effect. Fforde is an English writer—his is one of those odd old double-F-fronted surnames—who has published a series of novels featuring the detective Thursday Next; his young-adult fantasy novel, The Last Dragonslayer, was published in November 2010. (In addition, Fforde has written about an imaginary “socialist republic of Wales,” so he may harbor an affection for Welsh spellings—I’m not enough of a Fforde fan to say for certain.) The Fforde Ffiesta, whose typeface suggests the Ford Fiesta, is an annual gathering of Fforde fans; the next one takes place May 27 through 29.
It’s possible that at least eight entrepreneurs were familiar enough with Jasper Fforde to appropriate multiple-F-fronted spellings for their company names. More likely, though, they just kept hitting the F key while searching anxiously for an available domain name.
Me, I favor (or ffavor) the Sondheim Effect. Here’s a verse from “Can That Boy Foxtrot!”, a song written by Stephen Sondheim for his 1971 show Follies. The song was cut from the production, but it’s popular among cabaret singers. I first heard it sung by the inimitable and ageless Julie Wilson at San Francisco’s Plush Room (R.I.P.).
Can That Boy Fox Trot!
His mouth is mean,
He’s not too clean.
What makes him look reptilian is the brilliantine,
But oh, can that boy fff———oxtrot!
Miss Wilson bore down so lasciviously on the initial F in “fox trot” that I thought she’d bite through her lower lip.
The full lyric is in Sondheim’s splendid Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. I recommend the book to anyone who loves song, theater, writing, or criticism, or who agrees with me that Sondheim is a living treasure.
(Hat tip for the title to Jesse Sheidlower, author of The F Word, which is not about company names.)