Initial "ff"

Several British surnames, e.g. ffolkes and fforbes, begin with uncapitalised “ff”. Why uncapitalised?

I did a Web search on “ffolkes” and found, besides Roger Moore’s 1980 film, several real people with that surname – though some were listed as “Ffolkes”.

(You may recall the old British sitcom To the Manor Born, one of whose main characters was Edna fforbes-Hamilton.)

hhelp!! tthis is eating at my bbrain!!!

I remember this old WW2 era film (Sorry, don’t remember the Title) starring George Sanders, whose character’s name is

IIRC most of the original ff surnames are Welsh in Origin. Welsh has many different letter sounds to English. Some of these sounds are shown as double letters with, for instance, l being differently pronounced than ll (similar in style if not sound to the similar difference between l and ll in Spanish.) Therefore, ff is a different letter than f. Of course, after years of elision, the double letter often disappeared, giving some people a ff initial, and others an f initial letter to their surname.

That would be Audrey Forbes-Hamilton to the rest of us?

DaveoRad was wrong about the “Edna” but right about the “fforbes-”.

Pjen’s right about the Welsh origin too, a double ff is pronounced like a regular English f and a single f is pronounced like a v (or like the f in “of”). If memory serves both fs don’t have to be lower case though.

Hm. I’d heard the “ff” was from an old calligraphic way of writing a capital “F” – it only looked like a doubled lower case letter. But folks (or is it “ffolkes”?) misinterpreted it, and over time it became “ff”.

If only most "ff"ing surnames are derived from Welsh, (according to Pjen) how would that explain the minority that are non-Welsh? Isn’t Forbes, after all, a Scottish name?

I think scratch1300 is on the right track. From Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable]


Double F (Ff, or ff) as an initial in a few personal names, as Ffoulkes, ffench, etc., is a mistaken use in print of the medieval or Old English capital F as it appears written in engrossed leases, etc. In script the old capital F looked very much like two small f’s entwined. Its modern use is an affectation.


Sort of the way “thorn” got printed as “Y” (it was the closest approximation in English typeset) which lead to “Ye Olde Inn” (pronounced The Old Inn).

What was I thinking?? Maybe it’s that Penelope Keith looks more like an Edna than an Audrey. I just had “Edna” on the brain for some reason.

Thanks to all who responded.

(For those wondering how “thorn” could resemble “Y”: While the modern letter, as still used in Icelandic, resembles “b” superimposed on “b”, the more ancient and formal version of the capital letter was open-topped and did resemble “Y”. Personally I think we should bring it and “edh” back and straighten out this “th” mess once and for all, but that’s for another post.)

There’s more “back formation” in the thorn (þ) story as well. Not only did “ye” become erroneously spoken as “yee” instead of “thee”. This was scolded out of them by schoolmarms, but when correcting, some Welsh and Midlands residents over-corrected, and started pronouncing “yon” as “thon”.

Does this have any reason to do with why “you” in English differs from the “tu” in most other languages?

but it has become archaic - the form “thou”.

“You” was originally the second person plural (Fr. *vous[/i}, Sp. *ustedes[/i}). Over time, “you” took over the semantic duties of “thou”.