1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Using Name Signs for Personal Names

How Do I Get One?


Updated July 03, 2014

One aspect of deaf culture is the use of personal "sign names." These names often reflect the person's character. I don't really have a sign name myself; some people just call me "J," drawing a letter J in the air.

A forum member asked a question about the use of sign names, and forum members responded in the selected statements below:

    "I have a question I have been wondering about for a while. I want to select a good ASL 'short form' of my name to use. (rather than spelling C-A-I-T-L-Y-N each time...) I have seen the names of some of my friends, and I have an idea of what I want to use, but I am not sure if it might already be a sign for something else, or if it's appropriate.
    I am very musical: I sing, play piano, oboe and lots of other things. I also used to dance a lot when I was younger. All around I am very creative and artsy and musical.
    I was thinking of using the "music" sign, but with a "C" hand as my name short form.
    For those people who are very familiar with ASL: would this be an OK sign? If not, what would be more appropriate? Suggestions?"

"Sorry, You Cannot Give Yourself A Sign Name. I understand what you are trying to do, as it would simplify things, but a Sign Name can only be given to you by someone who is Deaf, or Hard of Hearing (i.e. someone from the deaf community). The more that you are around the "deaf community", the sooner that someone will pick up something unique about you, and that will become your Sign Name. It might have something to do with the things that you mentioned, or you could get something altogether different.

I will give you an example. The woman that i was dating was hard of hearing, and she had a deaf sister, and her parents were deaf. My girlfriend had a son who was about 2 or 3 when I started dating her. Since I almost always wear suspenders on my pants, he used to get a big kick out of sneaking up on me (at least he thought he was sneaking up on me), then grabbing the suspenders, and pulling them and then letting the suspenders snap back, and "supposedly" hurting me, lol. I would pretend to be hurt, and he would giggle like crazy. Eventually, My Sign Name became associated with him snapping my suspenders. My sign name is now shown as me putting my thumbs behind pretend braces, and then letting the pretend braces snap back. If someone in the deaf community wants to say something about me, they indicate this sign, and most people will know that it is referring to me. Then instead of having to fingerspell my name, they simply use my sign name.

If it is someone new in the deaf community that I am meeting, then I introduce myself, I would fingerspell my name, and then I would show them my "suspenders" sign name. After that, part of the introduction in deaf culture, is to explain your background as to how you came to be involved in the deaf community. For the deaf person, they would generally tell people about the residential school they attended (if they did attend one), the would talk about family, or common friends, this is all part of the introduction within the deaf community.

If you are dealing with kids, then it won't take long before you get a sign name, but it might be for a trait that will not be flattering, kids will generally pick up on something, and give you a sign name, that might have a "teasing or joke" aspect to it, but of course, if that is the case, then so be it. You will have been accepted."

"My mother signs for her local church and knows a few HOH and knows people who are deaf as well. Her ASL name that was given to her (im too much a newbie to have one myself) was "giggle" this name fits her very well. You can always see her laughing and smiling and always out to make people laugh and smile. I think it was the best thing to name her."

"...You can't pick your own name. Get to know some Deaf people and mention to them that you would like to have a sign name. Then, let it go. Don't expect an answer right away, they may tell you that they want to get to know you better before they give you a sign name.

There are several reasons for not choosing your own name. One of them is to avoid choosing a sign that already has meaning. The sign that you described I have seen used for both choir and concert.

It may be that the kids give you a sign name. It may be, as a few people that I have known have more than one sign name in your lifetime due to circumstances, living in different places, changing jobs, or other reasons."

"My sign name was given to me by my students and their original teacher. It is an L shaken near my right ear. No big significance to it. Teacher veto the kids first one for me as it was the sign for lazy. And no I am not lazy.

Funny thing is another teacher came into class with the same sign name and hers was changed since the kids already knew me. Hers is now an L going from her right ear to her shoulder."

"Hi. My name also starts with a 'C' so when I was trying to pick my name sign then I thought of characteristics about my self. I have long straight hair so I made my name sign a with 'C' dragging straight down along the side of my head. Now my sister used to have very curly hair so because her name is Stephanie she used an 'S' in a rotating twist next to her head. Just a suggestion."

"In the Deaf community a Name Sign is a gift - it's something that is given to you , not something you pick for yourself. Not all people have name signs, even people who have lived in the Deaf community their whole life (if your name is easy to fingerspell, like Pat , or has unique abbreviation etc.

It's also important for a member of the community to pick your name since they will know what is 'available' 2 people cannot share a name sign -- and it is not a given that your name sign will (like your first English name) be the same for your lifetime.

I agree -- mention it to someone in the community that you're close with, and then let it drop -- it's usually not something that you can make up 'on the spot', unless of course you already have one, and just don't know"

Readers Respond: Learning Sign Language

Related Video
Learn Introductions in American Sign Language

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.