Phone Numbers with Letters: Vanity Numbers

I was on Yahoo! Answers today and found a post from 7 years ago about how to dial a phone number with letters in it.

It brought me back to the time of phone phreaking and red boxes and other fun things you could do hacking phones. But all of this started back in 1917 when W. G. Blauvelt of AT&T proposed a mapping system that displayed three letters with the digits 2 through 9 on the dial. Until 1960, the US Phone System used Telephone Exchange Names to help people dial the right number.

The Simpsons: Mr. Plow and KLondike 5-3226

You might remember famous phone numbers from these times in movies and music, Klondike 5-3226 from The Simpsons or the song Pennsylvania 6-5000 by Glenn Miller. These were really early vanity numbers -- the "KL" in Klondike referred to "55" and the "PE" in Pennsylvania decoded to "73." There's a whole standardized list of the old suggested "words" to refer to the different Telephone Exchange Names.

So starting in 1917, phones started to include the letters along with the digits to help us humans better remember phone numbers.

Usually there are a set of three or four letters on each number, but these days not all mobile phones, apps and landline phones have these letters listed. Letters are associated only with the numbers 2 through 9. One (1), Zero (0), Pound or Hash (#) and Asterisk or Star (*) do not usually refer to other letters.

Payphone with Letters on their corresponding digits. Credit: payphone-project.com

In the photo above you'll note that Q and Z are missing. In the present day, in most cases, Q is included in with 7 and Z with 9. But there have been systems and phones where Q and Z were associated with the number 1 instead. Though rare, some voicemail and IVR systems still use the number 1 to handle the missing Q and Z today.

The traditional map between numbers and letters on most phones today is:

  • 2 => ABC
  • 3 => DEF
  • 4 => GHI
  • 5 => JKL
  • 6 => MNO
  • 7 => PQRS
  • 8 => TUV
  • 9 => WXYZ

Let's take 206-647-8262 as an example. Nirvana was a great band based out of Seattle. Seattle is in the 206 area code, and Nirvana spelled out on a phone comes out to 647-8262.

So NIRVANA would be N:6, I:4, R:7, V:8, A:2, N:6, A:2.

Sometimes businesses and individuals will make up a word that has more letters in it than numbers that are necessary. For your example, 888-ADORABLE-CATS would make a nonsensical phone number with too many digits -- phone numbers in the US are 10 digits, excluding the country code (+1). But most phones ignore the digits after the first 10, so they add it so your brain will hopefully remember their phone number. So you'd dial 888-236-7225, and then the rest of the word, 3-2287, would be ignored by the phone company. The phone might start ringing before you finish entering all those numbers.

Maybe you want a vanity phone number for your business, or just one for your friends. Tossable Digits has got you covered with over 300,000 phone numbers -- US, Canada and Toll Free -- to choose from right now. See if your perfect vanity number is available!

Search our Vanity Numbers
Type a word:

Hint: Usually shorter words yield more results. But maybe you'll get lucky. :-)