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What's your sign name?

We all agree that Deaf culture is rich and varied. Today I would like to talk about another wonderful aspect of the Deaf culture that might be unknown for many people: The "sign names".

Sign names are unique and personal. It's a sign of identity and it's an easy way to identify someone without fully fingerspelling their name in British Sign Language.

There are some fascinating facts about sign names that you may find very interesting to know:

When do you receive your sign name?

If you are born in a deaf family, like me, your parents will choose your sign name. It could take days or months to assign you a sign name! It is a different process from your “given” name.

In my case, I have a little scar at the corner of my eye because when I was a baby, I fell and hit the corner of a chair. Since then, my sign name is “like if you were scratching the corner of your eye with your finger”.

If you are a hearing person that has not had a close contact or relation within the Deaf community, you might be given a sign name as an adult, and it must always come from a member of the Deaf community. To be given a sign name is an honour to be accepted graciously.

Normally you will use your sign name to introduce yourself or to be introduced, and you will need to fingerspell your birth name first. After that you will sign your sign name, i.e.: Hi, my name is E-L-I-S-A (fingerspelling) and then scratch the corner of my eye with my finger. After that you might want to give an explanation to your sign name.

There are two types of sign name: Descriptive sign name and initialized sign name.

Descriptive sign names are generally chosen based on a unique characteristic, such as a personality trait, your occupation or interests, or it may be a physical feature like "freckles", or "blond air". There is really no limits here!

Initialized sign names are as simple as signing the first letter of their birth name, like "A" for Albert or "S" for Susan.

Sometimes both types could be combined, for example like the first letter of their birth name to then sign "airplane" for someone who is a pilot. Or if you like to play tennis, your sign name might be the first letter of your birth name to then sign tennis.

No offense needed

Sometimes the Deaf community might give you a "humour"-based sign name, like "petite", "bossy" or "bald". Have in mind that the Deaf community doesn't aim to hurt or make you feel upset when your sign name is chosen. It is always with all the best intention.

Please, never take back your sign name. Think of it as a "rite of passage" signalling your inclusion in the Deaf community.

So, do you have a sign name? Congratulations! You have officially been welcomed into the Deaf community!

Enjoy this lovely honour :)

Deaf Awareness Trainig for Companies by Deaf Umbrella
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I feel saddened with the final paragraph about humour names, it’s not funny if the person given the name is upset by it. Nobody should be immune from being held accountable of their actions. If a sign-name causes hurt then of course it should be changed, disability of any kind should never be used as an excuse to be a horrible person to others


Unknown member
Sep 23, 2022

This is all super patronising and offensive and as someone with a lte onset condition which is causing progressive hearing loss, ngl, while I'm learning BSL I'm ficussing more on peactising speaking normally when unable to hear and lip reading. To be frank, your smug, condescending tone of "lolol who curr if you're offended iTs An HoNoUr!" is the kinda gross nonsense I want no part of and is a major turn off of the deaf community for me. This is gross and insulting and kack.

Replying to

Someone’s not happy with their name sign. Let me guess, it’s something like ‘Karen’? 😂


Unknown member
Jul 15, 2020

I think is okay to ask for new sign name if offensive? Older people at Deaf Pub give old China sign -slanty eyes - to a hearing Japanese learning sign and he was really upset about, so we change

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