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 an interesting 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).

ffiver: British site where people share what they're willing to do for £5 or less. There's a US version of the service; it's spelled fiverr.

fflap: A suite of e-commerce tools. From the About Us page:

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 byGoogle 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.)

Is it possible the companies' founders are fans of The Who, whose 1965 anthem "My Generation" includes the lyric "Why don't you all f-fade away"?

Or are they clever programmers? Multiple Fs are, after all, 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."

Could the phenomenon be a manifestation of 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.

Is it possible that at least eight entrepreneurs were familiar enough with Jasper Fforde to appropriate multiple-F-fronted spellings for their company names?

On second (or fffifth) thought, perhaps this is not the Fforde Effect but the Sondheim Effect. As evidence, I present a verse from "Can That Boy Foxtrot!", 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 some years ago by the unforgettable Julie Wilson at San Francisco's Plush Room (since shuttered).

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!

Here the prolonged fff-ing is a naughty wink to the audience. In the third verse, the singer discloses "one more flaw in him—he can't dance."

All right, I admit it: I'm stumped. I simply can't come up with a credible explanation for this peculiar trend. If you have a theory, please suggest it! Meanwhile, I'll go with my default assumption: The names' creators just kept hitting the F key while searching anxiously for an available domain name.


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 9th 2011, 8:23 AM
Comment by: Nabil B.
I would believe your default assumption is the closest to the truth. On the web, .com domains are difficult to find. For a while terminating a company name with a z (instead of an s) was trendy...
Wednesday March 9th 2011, 8:45 AM
Comment by: Noel B.
WWWWWeird SSSsSStuff or should that be stuffffffffffffff???

Noel in sssssunny Australia
Wednesday March 9th 2011, 10:16 AM
Comment by: Jennifer M. (Laguna Beach, CA)
If it's a tribute to Fforde (which I doubt it is), I'm all ffor it.
Wednesday March 9th 2011, 11:20 AM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Nabil B.: You're absolutely correct about the challenges of finding available domains, but final-Z names owe more to the spread of hip-hop spelling than to the exigencies of the web. For example, the Starz cable channel was launched in 1994, when the web was still in its infancy; the animated feature "Antz" was released in 1998; and the Bratz dolls made their debut in 2001. Leslie Savan writes amusingly about the "gangsta" qualities of Z in her book "Slam Dunks and No-Brainers," which I cited in a 2006 post on my blog: http://bit.ly/fbSX6n
Wednesday March 9th 2011, 11:24 AM
Comment by: Jan S. (Brookline, MA)
H.W. Fowler on "ff":
In old manuscripts the capital F was sometimes written ff. This is the origin of the curious spelling of some English surnames: ffoliot, fforde, ffoulkes, ffrench, and others. The distinction of possessing such a name is naturally prized; readers of "Cranford" will remember Mrs. Forrester's cousin Mr. ffoulkes who always looked down on capital letters and said they belonged to lately invented families; and it was feared he would die a bachelor until he met a Mrs. ffarringdon and married her, "and it was all owing to her two little ffs."
Thursday March 10th 2011, 5:49 AM
Comment by: David S. (DINGMANS FERRY, PA)
ff'get-a-bout-it!
Monday March 14th 2011, 10:10 AM
Comment by: Tom W.
It's definitely the influence of Roger Daltrey and The Who. :)
Monday March 14th 2011, 9:15 PM
Comment by: Joan Seifried Taylor (Silver Spring, MD)
to Jan S.:

Well done!

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