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Name Signs:

Also see: "Name Signs"

Topic: Name Signs

Context: Deaf Community and Culture

Example: A “V”-hand touched to the temple is a name sign associated with “Dr. Bill Vicars."* 
(*Name signs are not necessarily exclusive.  Other people may also use the same name sign -- but not typically within the same social circles).

Name Sign Definition: A “name sign” is a sign* that is commonly associated with or used to refer to a specific person, place, or organization.  *(A sign language "sign" is an articulatory bundle of information (produced with one or both hands held in a specific shape or series of shapes, moved in a specific way, at a specific location or series of locations, at a specific orientation or series of orientations, and associated with a specific meaning or range of meanigns.)

Question: What is the significance of name signs in Deaf culture?

Response: Name signs provide a convenient way to identify and refer to people, places, and organizations. Name signs facilitate connection between members of the Deaf Community. Some name signs are associated with a person’s characteristics thus providing easy conversation starting points. The naming process allows for camaraderie building and/or generally (but not always) good natured, playful, or humorous interactivity.

Question: Do all members of the Deaf Community have name signs?

Response: All members of the Deaf Community do not have name signs. Some people have short names that are easy to fingerspell. Some people have simply rejected name signs. Some people have not been members of the community long enough to receive a name sign. Some people have relinquished their name sign due to having moved to a new community where someone is already using the same name sign.

Question: Are their any famous name signs?

Response: There are some very well known name signs. Numerous Deaf actors are famous and thus have well-known name signs. Many historical figures (both in and out of the Deaf Community) such as Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc have well-known name signs. There are typically well-known name signs for the current and recent past presidents of the country in which the Deaf community exists.

Question: How do you get a name sign?

Response: Generally you should get a name sign by interacting enough in the Deaf community that those around you get tired of spelling your name and decide to assign you a name sign.

Question: Who can assign a name sign?

Response: Generally name signs should be assigned by socially active Deaf adults who are highly skilled signers and who are familiar with most of the existing name signs Deaf people in their local community as well as commonly known name signs from the larger Deaf community. This is important so that a newcomer is assigned a name sign that isn’t offensive, conforms to societal norms, and doesn’t conflict with existing names. Parents of Deaf children commonly assign their own children name signs. This is best done in consultation with adult members of the local Deaf Community – if not – the parents and child should remain flexible and open to the idea that the name sign may have an issue and may need to be changed later upon entry into the Deaf Community. Some teachers of the Deaf commonly assign name signs to their students who may not already have name signs. It is hoped that such teachers of the Deaf are highly skilled in sign language and familiar with the name signs in use in the Deaf community.

Question: Can name signs change over your lifetime?

Response: Yes. It is not uncommon for people to have several name signs throughout their lives.

Question: Can you make up your own?

Response: It is advised that you instead strive to interact enough with the Deaf community that those around you will spontaneously assign you a name sign. After you have developed some genuine (non-superficial) relationships in the Deaf community it is likely you will be granted a name sign. If not, you can hint to a friend in the community that you would like a name sign.

Question: Do ASL students eventually make up one/get one, or is that cultural appropriation and only for Deaf people?

Response: ASL students are ill-equipped to be choosing their own name signs. Due to lack of experience and skill ASL students do not know the spectrum of existing name signs. It is not uncommon for a well-intentioned student to come up with a name sign that is a swear word, private body part, drug-related term, sexual process, or some other potentially embarrassing or inappropriate sign.

Question: Does someone who becomes part of the Deaf community later in life (becoming Deaf or getting deeply involved otherwise via work or marriage or similar) get a name sign?

Response: Deep and sustained involvement in the Deaf community is almost always accompanied by the granting of a name sign by one’s associates. If your name is short and easily spelled then you may not receive a name sign. Even if your name is spelled it is likely to go through a lexicalization process wherein it is shortened and morphed to become easier to spell. For example, the name sign of a Deaf person named “Nick” morphed into “N3” (an “N” followed by an extremely loose “K” hand that looks somewhat like a mutated “3”).

Question: Is the bestowal of a name sign a significant event (like baptism) or is it just totally for functionality/convenience?

Response: Typically a large party is held, attended by as many significant individuals in that person’s life as possible – accompanied by gifts, toasts, extensive drinking, and dancing. (I’m KIDDING! That is a JOKE!) Name sign bestowal is generally a spontaneous happening. Sometimes it arises out of someone describing someone else and that description becoming more and more concise until it becomes a single sign. Sometimes a name sign arises from someone teasing someone else and it sticks. (I know a fellow with the name sign “DIAPER.”) Sometimes a name sign starts as an insulting way to refer to someone. (There is a rather well known person whose name sign is a compound of SWEET-B_TCH. The person has embraced the sign and some others wish it was their name sign). Sometimes a name sign arises from the person’s initials becoming more and more commonly used in place of spelling out the name. So, no – the receiving of a name sign is generally not a big “event.” However it is not-uncommon for some ASL students to return home from a Deaf Event and squeal with delight to their roommate that they have finally received a name sign.





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