Meaning of "ffens"

+5 votes

"John Alsop = Katherin fil. Cope of ffens Bentley." The visitation of Derbyshire 1662/3 p. 18

I can't tell if ffens is a clever latin abbreviation, a strange spelling of "Fence" or a typo. I gave up looking for it - hoping someone just knows the answer.

(nb. ffens means "Fence" in Welsh, I suppose that's a 4th possibility)

WikiTree profile: Anthony Alsop
in Genealogy Help by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 6 (64.8k points)
It's just a silly transcription of an F.  See eg ffran p. 21, ffanshaw p. 23
Can't see who edited this.  No name on the title page and no preface.  He's also done a lot of u instead of v - Oldgreaue, Sacheuerell, Cauendish.  Really not necessary.  Adds nothing except irritation.
Thanks - the village "Fenny Bentley" is ~ 5 miles south of Alsop en le Dale, that must be it (aka Fens Bentley).

NEHGR v44 p. 92 reprinted verbatim.

If you can trust this blog post from Grammarphobia it was used because there was no capital F in middle English.

Interesting reading.

Yes, it's just a silly transcription of an 'F'. It probably means fens, like in swamps; "Fenny" Bently, the one with fens.
From memory, we have several intermingled Ffrekes and Frekes, and Footes and Ffootes on wikitree. I think that so far my husbands family remain Fords but his many times grandfather signed his will Fford.

Clarenceux had his opinion

but the system won't let me create Rose ffrench. 

I do think, if you're going to respect these affectations, you have to do it properly.  ffrench or French, but not Ffrench.

John - I figured there was a reason. We prob. should fix all the Ffrench to French I forgot about that name (and all the other 'ff's floating around...)
In Welsh, ff and f are different, I guess.
In old Welsh books ff is treated as a separate single letter between f and g, so ffa sorts after fy.

But it's capitalized in print as Ff.
I disagree with Kirk Hess’s thought that we should amend initiall ff to F. There are families and individuals, past and present, who have deliberately adopted the ff form and that is the standard way their names are written. Some of them are notables with Wikipedia articles, including two living novelists with the surname fforde.

2 Answers

+2 votes
I have a large set of Ford/Forde/fforde ancestors. They varied the spelling of their name into the late 19th century (or in a few cases, into the 20th). There are a number of British families some of whose members used the 'ff' form instead of F at the start of their surnames. And in some old printed texts you will find 'ff' used instead of 'F' for some words: it was simply a spelling alternative. As R J Horace has said, where the 'ff' form is used, it should be entirely lower case - but Wikitree does not seem to respect that for surnames.
by Michael Cayley G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
The ff represents the capital letter rather than a spelling variation. The e at the end is definitely a variant, seems in 'my' family to depend on the writer rather than the era.

Quite often scribes  and parish clerks used chi rho for Christ in names i.e. Christopher ( Xpofer ) Its like the ff not a variation just a different script  I would use Christopher in transcriptions.
Xrofer is perhaps best seen as sort of abbreviated or shorthand form, like the quite often used Xt for Christ is today. In older documents - and in medieval scripts - there are quite a lot of abbreviated/shorthand forms of common words, names and word endings, and of course people still use some shortened forms of common words today in normal writing. (I am not referring to txting.)

I am sure you are right that the ff form at the start of names originated as an orthographic representation of the capital F, which in some medieval scripts could look rather like a double lower case f. I am less sure that by the 19th century my fforde forebears thought of it like that. I suspect they just regarded it as a nice historic spelling which they wished to preserve - something which Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable dismisses as an affectation in modern use.
+1 vote
I hate to throw another curve into this discussion, however "f" can be representing the letter "s" in texts of that era. The double "ff" could be a double "ss."
by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (504k points)
I'm not sure I have seen that.

Sometimes people read the long S as an f When its used as part of  a double s, one s is normally short.
I've only seen it the way Helen described. One long and the other short. Without seeing the original document it could be any number of things. The transcriptions/extractions were done a long time ago. Probably due a modern version with people well trained in reading the handwriting of the time.
I have seen the long s with a small horizontal bar, but it is a shorter horizontal than in the letter f, and usually just on the left hand side of the vertical line, not crossing the vertical as the horizontal bar in the letter f does. Reading quickly, one can get confused sometimes between the long s and f in older handwritten documents and printed books, because they can look quite similar. I too have never seen a double long s.

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