Naming stories: Jackson Fish Market

Originally published Feb 13, 2007

Hillel Cooperman of Jackson Fish Market sent a pointer to his naming story, which appears in the first post of his company blog. Head on over and take a look. But please do come back.

Back? Good.

The name Jackson Fish Market belongs to a small software company. That could be outright confusing, couldn’t it? But The Name Inspector guesses it’s really not a problem. Why? It has to do with the contexts in which people first encounter this name. They’re not hearing it on the radio while driving down the interstate. Most likely they’re seeing it as a link on some tech-related web page. In this context they’ll be pretty certain it’s not a name for an actual fish market. They may be curious, as The Name Inspector was when he first encountered it. They may just want to check it out. If they do, chances are that name is going to stick in their minds like, mmm, some kind of sticky fishy thing. It evokes very vivid sensory images.

This is another example of an enigmatic name, one that works largely by playing on people’s curiosity, like the name 37signals. Unlike 37signals, though, it’s not the intrinsic meaning of the name that’s a mystery. We know that Jackson Fish Market“should” refer to a place that sells fish and that’s either on Jackson St. or owned and operated by someone named Jackson. The mystery comes from how this could possibly relate to software development. Is the company located in a building that used to be occupied by a fishmonger? (That was The Name Inspector’s first guess).

Hillel uses this mystery as an opportunity to tell a story about his family history and his attitudes about life and business. Jackson Fish Market was the name of a market owned by his grandfather, Harry Jackson. Hillel wants to associate his software company with a tradition of small family businesses. This is an interesting twist on the classic immigrant success story. In the classic story, the children of artisans and merchants become doctors and lawyers. In Hillel’s story, that shift has already taken place, and he’s looking to recapture something that was sacrificed in the process.

It’s not just personal history that’s relevant to this name. There’s also an interesting social and economic shift at work. Until fairly recently, commerical software has been created almost exclusively by large corporations with marketing departments. The people who work in those departments usually don’t know or care how software is actually made. They simply sell an image that they think will appeal to the general public. It’s usually a bland image focusing on productivity and efficiency.

Behind the marketing facade, though, are people who think of themselves as builders and artisans. They get their hands dirty every day creating the virtual world that we all spend so much time in. For them, software is something real. Small software companies like Jackson Fish Market, which are becoming more common largely because it’s getting much easier and cheaper to start such companies, give the geeks a chance to sell the goods themselves. When they do, they let their own perspective shine through. They present their product as something real. Like slimy fish.

This is a pretty long name, but that goes with the folksy old-fashioned image it presents. It’s nice that it can be shortened to Jackson Fish, though.

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