Name signs are signs that are used as people's names. They are
specific signs that refer to specific people.
If you spend enough time in the Deaf community eventually you will
receive a name sign from your Deaf friends or associates.
It is best to get your name sign
from a skilled native signer who is familiar with the Deaf people in
your area and knows whether a particular name sign is already being
In general, only people who are culturally Deaf should give name
signs to others. The reason you should get your name sign from a Deaf person
skilled in ASL and active in the Deaf Community is because such individuals
have enough experience to know if a potential name sign is
grammatically correct and culturally acceptable Getting
your name sign from a Deaf person who is active in the Deaf community helps insure
that the new name sign doesn't conflict with existing local name signs.
A native Deaf ASL teacher sent the following. (Adapted with
"Three important things to know about name signs:
1. Name signs are given by a Deaf person. Discuss difference
In some cases a hearing person has to do the giving of a name sign.
A mainstreamed Deaf ed teacher for instance. But that teacher must
be aware of the rules.
2. Name signs are either arbitrary or descriptive.
3. "Combined" name signs are not acceptable."
What's an example of a combined name sign that
breaks the rules?
"A combined name sign is a combination of an initialized sign name
and a description--i.e. someone named Alejandrina with curly long
hair might have the "500" handshape name waving down her head and it
would be fine--she could also have an "A" handshape on the chin and
it would be fine--but making the same down the head movement to show
the waves with an "A" hand shape would breach the ASL rule of name
signing. Basically that is very much a SEEism."
A "combo name sign" is describing a person's physical feature or
personality with a handshape corresponding to the first letter of
For example: Paul "P" as in sign for laugh: the
handshape P. On side of the mouth as if you're signing
laugh. (That's a combined sign.)
Laura "L" as in having long eyelashes: the handshape L in a sweeping
motion near the eye. (Combined)
Bev "B" as in "happy". (Combined)
Instead it would be better to stick to either using descriptive name signs WITHOUT the manual alphabet
letter, (for example, it's ok to use a bent 5 handshape as a name sign for
"Missy" who has curly
hair), OR stick with using the first letter of person's name in an
arbitrary location without
meaning (for example, the letter N-shaken in space in
front of the signer).
The use of combo name signs is like saying that ASL language
rules are insignificant and/or that the person is "hearing
minded." (Not familiar with the way Deaf do things.)
- (name on file, slight edits for
Dr. Bill's comments and notes:
There are many Deaf
people (and ASL teachers) who give out combined name signs
(first letter of name combined with some personality trait
this is not reflective of the classic (golden days) of Deaf
society nor the emerging resurgence of respect for
While "combo name signs" are "out there" and "used by many"
they are not reflective of classic / traditional
1. Name sign choices should be guided by deep seated values based on appreciation of and respect
for the type of signing done by native ASL users.
2. It is recognized in the Deaf Community that
novice or low level signers tend to use excessive
3. "Combo name signs" are often laborious, cumbersome, or simply
have the visual equivalence of the
4. To be accepted in the Deaf Community it is important to
show respect for and appreciation of the type of signing done by native ASL users.
5. There are physiological reasons for the grammatical rules
that apply to name signs. Human
brains are prefer visually effective and efficient
6. The grammar of ASL is based on the type of signing done by native ASL users.
Native signers sign the way they do
because such signing is visually effective
In a message dated 8/29/2012 3:10:42 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, kinokun91 writes:
My name is David Kunze,
... I have a question about a name sign I was
given by a deaf co-worker I recently worked
with. We both work as Respit Care Providers for
kids with intellectual disabilities, and after a
few weeks working with each other he gave me a
name sign that was signed alot like "candy"
except its the letter "D" on the cheek instead
of your pointer finger. He told me that "Candy
is sweet, and your sweet with kids." So there's
meaning to it. Is this an appropriate name sign?
I ask because I worked myself up to Lesson 12
and I saw a section about Name Signs, and it
seems like it doesn't quite follow the rules due
to it being a "Combined Name Sign". I don't
fully understand the rules when it comes down to
name signs, but I am very curious and willing to
The fact is, many
Deaf people out there in the real
world have, use, and assign
name signs in exactly the
same approach as your Deaf co-worker: via combining
the first letter of your name with the sign for a personal
Thus you as a newcomer to the community find yourself being
pulled in two directions:
1. Certain "academics" and "traditionalists" prefer or
promote the "classic" or "legacy" approach to assigning name
signs and will tell you that you should do it the "classic"
way of using either an arbitrary "letter" or a "descriptive
sign" but not both.
2. Your co-worker (who is Deaf) actually assigns
names via the combination of an initial and a
personal characteristic. (A method that has become very widely used
To boil that down even more:
1. What someone thinks you "should do."
2. What "is" done.
So, where does that leave you?
The academician in me is bound to tell you to do it the "old
classic / legacy way."
(Sort of like an English teacher might tell you that "ain't"
isn't a word and you shouldn't use it. Heh.)
The lexicographer / pragmatist / realist in me would tell you
when in Rome do as Romans do (or as your co-worker does),
but be aware that some Romans disagree with what is being
done by other Romans.
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