The Shrimp Fork

Text: The Shrimp Fork

Minor Genre: nickname (toponym)

Context: My informant, JW, is a 57 year old man from Buffalo, New York, who now lives in San Francisco. The Shrimp Fork is a nickname for Sutro Tower, a radio and television tower in San Francisco that is also a tourist attraction because of its unique design and placement atop a large, hikeable hill. It is called such because of the similarity between the shape of a fork specifically made to eat shrimp with and the three-pronged top of the tower that is featured prominently in the city’s skyline. JW told me that he learned this nickname for the structure about 15 years ago, from his fiancee at the time. He claims that she invented the term herself, but that the two of them together have made it a known term amongst their social circles and beyond. His children and their friends have also spread the term. 

Analysis: The tendency to rename functional objects to be more recognizable and perhaps humorous is very endearing, as it seems so human to desire familiarity. Sutro Tower may be a perfectly good name for this interesting structure, but it is wonderfully and playfully human for a small cohort of people to give it a name that resembles something from their own lives. This nickname certainly pertains to a place-specific folk group, as it is unlikely that anybody who does not reside in San Francisco would know this term. However, there are other structures throughout the world that have both colloquial and official names. It is important to maintain the knowledge of these nicknames, as such terms offer knowledge about the culture in which these structures exist – comparing the documented title and the toponym gives us insight into what a government or city might deem important and how that differs from how the citizens of a place see and understand their surroundings.