Updated: May 24, 2022
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 :)