From the blog posting on Autodesk Viewing History:
With the internet boon in 1995, Autodesk customers wanted to share designs on the web. Bandwidth ... made it impractical for Netscape Navigator Plug-ins to be larger than a megabyte. With this in mind, the plug-in needed to be simple. ...So Brian Mathews invented the DWF format. The format featured file compression and tessellated (ready to draw) geometry. The easiest way to create such a file was to have the WHIP ADI video driver for AutoCAD R13 dump its display list to a file.
To continue the story - about this same time, Microsoft was unveiling its ActiveX technology. Sun was releasing Java. Acronyms were not in vogue. These technologies had cool names. Given that the files came from the WHIP ADI driver, we thought we would call them WHIP files. Customers could easily "whip them around." The extension would be .whp. Then Vice President of AutoCAD R13, John Lynch, noted that if we just called them WHIP files, no one would associate them with AutoCAD. We hated to miss out on the name recognition of one of our most popular products. So in the spirit of compromise, the file format was named DWF - Drawing Web Format - so it would closely resemble DWG, and the Netscape Navigator Plug-in was called WHIP!. We had the best of both worlds - association with AutoCAD and a cool new name. Later when other Autodesk design applications also began to publish DWF files, we updated the name to Design Web Format recognize its true essence. Now we normally just refer to DWF as DWF, since the format has become so popular.
So what's in a name? According to William Shakespeare, "a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet."