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American Sign Language: "The use of titles"
Titles of Address in ASL
Also see:
Titles 2

<<In a message dated 12/18/2013 3:03:28 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, a teacher writes:

...A question about name signs: My official training is as an English teacher in a Hearing school, not as an ASL instructor or interpreter. I teach 1 class of ASL to a group of hearing students, and we were wondering what the appropriate way would be for them to refer to me. Should they fingerspell "Mister"? Just my last name? Is signing "TEACHER K" more fitting? Would it be appropriate to use a name sign for me? I do not want to be presumptuous about assigning myself a name sign.
Adam Kupersmith >>

If the norm at your school is for students to address their teachers as "Mr. Soandso" or "Ms. Soandso" -- you can teach your students that when you are on the school grounds that your name sign means: "Mr. Kupersmith." To THEM it doesn't mean "Kupersmith" -- to them it means "Mr. Kupersmith." The "Mr." is included within the meaning of your name sign.

Think of it this way. Suppose you were in the faculty lounge and a policeman showed up (heh) and asked "Where's Mr. Kupersmith?" The other faculty would point at you (rather quickly I would suppose). In such a situation the "pointing gesture" is a type of "naming" process. Their "pointing gesture" would carry the meaning of "That is Mr. Kupersmith."

If a "pointing gesture" can mean "Mr. Kupersmith" -- then it stands to reason that a name sign can also mean "Mr. Kupersmith."

Off of school grounds when interacting with peers your name sign doesn't carry the "Mr." with it.

If you go to a Deaf event and introduce yourself you would spell your first name then your last name and then show your name sign. In the Deaf world your name sign doesn't mean "Mr. Kupersmith."  Rather to your associates in the Deaf Community your name sign means (or will mean when you get a name sign) "Adam Kupersmith" or even just "Adam."

Since you do not already have a name sign I recommend you ask your local Deaf friends to give you one. If you do not have any Deaf friends I recommend you make some (since you really should be interacting with skilled native-level ASL signers if you are going to be teaching ASL).
- Dr. Bill

In a message dated 3/1/2005 4:34:49 PM Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:
 I am wondering if there are signs for Mr., Mrs., Miss (an unmarried woman), and Ms.?
Such "titles of address" are almost never used in ASL.
We refer to people by their name sign or by spelling their first name or sometimes their last name.  For example an adult student just asked me "Where "S-M-I-T-H?"  She was referring to one of my coworkers, a woman with a last name of "Smith."
In the Deaf world even titles such as Dr. are rarely used.  This even applies to making formal introductions for speakers.  If the title "Dr." is used then it is done so very sparingly.
- Dr. Bill

(Notice how I used the "Dr." in my closing when I just said that titles are rarely used in ASL?  Because I'm typing in English and English does use such titles. I only include the "Dr." because "Dr. Bill" is my stage name.  It is part of my "brand" that people know me by.)

The use of titles:

I'm a member of quite a few "communities."  Two of those communities are the "academic" community and the Deaf community.

In the academic community, titles are commonplace and generally expected to be used between students and their teachers.  This begins in elementary school where typically students are required to address their teachers as "Mr. Soandso" or "Mrs. Soandso."  This system of formal address continues through to the postsecondary school years where students tend to address their instructors as "Professor Soandso," or "Dr. Soandso." 

Thus I wear different nametags depending on which community I'm in an any particular time.

Academic world:  Dr. Vicars, Dr. Bill, Dr. V

Deaf World:  B-I-L-L  or "V"-(taps side of head)-[namesign]

Cultural norms for these two worlds conflict regarding personal titles.  In one world it is (generally) considered important.  In the other world it is (generally) considered unimportant.

How do I handle this cultural conflict?

First of all, I recognize that many students actually LIKE and want to address me as "Dr." Vicars because they honestly want to be polite.  They feel comfortable being polite.  They also enjoy the thought that they are hanging out with and being taught by someone who has taken the time and put forth the effort to earn such a title.  It is possible that the title helps me be a more effective teacher because it perhaps helps engender (bring about) respect.  That "respect" helps me to manage my classroom more effectively and thus provide a better learning environment for my students.

As part of an effort to be an effective teacher I actively use the title "Dr." when interacting via written English with students.

In a sign language classroom (and in the Deaf world) we don't use people's names (nor a combination of their title and name) as a form of attention getting.  Instead we just wave our hand (if needed) and then once we have someone's attention we ask our question or make our comment. When we refer to someone we tend to use their name sign or spell their first name.  Sure, if needed or preferred we can spell their last name -- but it would be rare to use a title.

Here's a list of what I'm generally called by various populations:

Peers refer to me as:  Bill

General Deaf:  namesign: "V"-(taps side of head) or spell B-I-L-L and shake a "V."

Students: when interacting via email: Dr. Vicars, Dr. Bill, Dr. V, or Professor

Students: when interacting in my presence: No need to state a name -- I'm there.

Students: when discussing me when I'm not there:  Heck if I know that they call me.  I would hope they just do my name sign and not some cussword.

Sons and Daughters: Dad

Wife: Bill, Honey, & (censored)

Church folks: BROTHER then do namesign.  In correspondence: Brother Vicars, Brother Bill. 

Family of origination: (My mom, dad, brother, and sister)  Billy

Internet Inquiries:  Some call me Mr. Vicars -- indicating they have not taken the time to learn anything at all about me and are generally just trying to get me to do their high school or college homework for them instead of going to the library (or accessing the appropriate online databases) and doing their own work.

Emails from ASL Heroes (those true believers out there who are genuinely seeking to learn and understand ASL): Bill, Dr. Bill, or Dr. Vicars. (Again, depending on if we have interacted at any length, and or their own status, age, or cultural background.)

Note:  There is a difference between the sign for a medical doctor and how we refer to an "academic" doctor.  While the Deaf community is not overly concerned with titles, if you are introducing someone to an audience you would simply spell the letters "D-R" and then the name.

In a message dated 8/9/2006 2:37:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time, a job applicant writes:
I have an important interview coming up with a Deaf man: "Dr. Smith." 
How should
I address Dr. Smith? 
Should I make the sign for 'doctor' ("M" on wrist) and fingerspell his last name? 
Is it ok for me to ask him what his name sign is and use it? 
Dear Job Applicant,
Unless the person is a medical doctor you should not sign "doctor" on the wrist.  The DOCTOR sign is reserved for medical professionals only.  Other "doctors" (such as academic professionals) can be referred to via fingerspelling "D" and "R."
It is not rude to ask a person if they have a name sign.  Generally it is offered during initial greetings.
Actually, how to address him is not an issue.
In general you never need to use his name.  Really. 
Realistically, the only time you will use his name is when you talk to other people about him.  Then, if you desire you can spell D-R  S-M-I-T-H,  or use his name sign if you know it.
-- Dr. Bill

In a message dated 7/31/2004 8:48:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time, heydana@_______ writes:

Dr. Vicars,
I have taught ASL for about 6 years at a couple of local colleges and have had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors for the local Center for the Deaf. I am hearing, but have always utilized the wisdom and resources of my Deaf friends and acquaintances to keep my curriculum relevant and my personal relationships within the community respectful. In both cases, my hearing students and my Deaf friends have always referred to me as just "Dana" and not "Mrs. McCray". Here's why I share that little bit of background. My husband (who's a middle school teacher with just an elementary knowledge of ASL) asked me something the other day that I'd never
had to address before. "If I was to introduce myself to a class of Deaf students using ASL, how would I sign the word "mister" as the title before my last name?". I looked at him and shrugged. What IS the proper way to utilize titles? How do name signs figure into this? I'm very aware of name signs for FIRST names, but since all my relationships with Deaf individuals are rather informal I've never seen anyone introduced as Mr. or Mrs, etc.
Your thoughts?
Best regards,
Dana McCray
Portland, OR

Your observations are correct. In the Deaf community we do not use "courtesy titles" (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., and so forth) the same way hearing people do. It is unlikely that you will ever see a culturally Deaf person introduce another culturally Deaf person as "Mr. / Mrs." so and so. Just as I started replying to your email I received an IM (instant message) from a friend of mine. I asked her if she recalled ever having seen "courtesy titles" used at the Deaf School she attended. She emphatically replied "Nope!"
She also pointed out that when she introduces me to people she does not include the "Dr." but simply spells "Bill Vicars" and shows my name sign, (the index finger side of a "V" handshape tapping the side of my head twice).

Hosts at Deaf conventions sometimes introduce their (Ph.D. holding) guest speakers as "Dr." so and so.  It depends on the audience. If the audience is paying to come be educated by an expert, then the audience members most likely want the guest speaker to be introduced as "Dr."

If the convention or workshop is using a flyer or an overhead projection and if the person has an academic title, we put the "title" on the program or flyer then during the introduction we simply spell the first and last name and then show the name sign.
When dealing with written English it is common for students to use the "Dr." title when sending emails or letters to their instructors.
For example, in closing this email I will put "Dr." in front of my name. Why? Because I'm going to post it at Lifeprint and many of my readers enjoy calling me Dr. Bill.  It is sort of my "stage name."
As far as introducing your husband, I recommend writing "Mr. McCray" on the board and then showing your students his name sign.
To the students then, the namesign means "Mr. McCray."  To your colleagues and friends though his name sign will simply mean whatever his first name is.
Dr. Bill

TITLES or titles of address: 

When signing in the Deaf community we rarely use the "title" "Dr." as in "Dr. Vicars." We tend to just use the person's name sign and are much less concerned with "titles." Also, we only use the DOCTOR sign when referring to "medical doctors." On those limited occasions when we do refer to people who hold "doctor of philosophy" or "doctor of education" degrees (such as introducing them at a conference) we fingerspell "D-R." In college environments, when sending email to instructors who hold doctorate degrees students should indeed type "Dr." But in everyday conversations in the hallway, meetings, or classes it is generally standard to just use the person's name sign (without adding the title "Dr."). During formal meetings in academic settings involving mixed cultural groups (Deaf and Hearing or instructors and students) you may notice that when professional interpreters see a name sign they tend to voice the title "Dr." along with the last name of the person being referenced. That is because such interpreters are skilled at jockeying between cultures. It is their job to recognize and bridge the cultural differences. If the meeting is a small faculty meeting with no students involved then the interpreter is much more likely to voice just the first name of the person being referenced with a name sign. Again, that is because the interpreter is aware of the setting and interprets in a culturally appropriate manner.

Question:  What about school settings?  Isn't it important that young children show respect to their teachers, counselors, and the principal by using proper titles of address?

Answer:  In the Deaf world a name sign is the way to respectfully refer to a person. For example, imagine the first day of class at a Deaf School.  The students come in and the teacher writes on the board: "Mr. Smith".  He then turns around and signs to the students, "MY NAME S-M-I-TH" and then taps an "S" on the upper left area of his chest.  Here we have a blending of two cultures. By writing (in English) "Mr. Smith" on the board he is informing the students of his English name and title.  By tapping an "S" on his chest he is informing the students that the sign for "Mr. Smith" is an "S" tapped on the chest.

I've seen circumstances involving high-school age (and younger) students where teachers who previously had a name sign consisting of their first initial would adopt a new name sign consisting of their "last" initial for use with their students. Such teachers would then maintain two name signs. Their traditional, well-established first-initial name sign for use in the adult community and the new last-initial name sign for use with their students.  For what it is worth though, I see that sort of thing more in day-program type settings than I do in traditional State-run residential schools for the Deaf.


Also see:
Honorifics in ASL

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