How You Receive a Name Sign Within the Deaf Community

A Gift Given to You by Those Within the Deaf Community

One aspect of deaf culture is the use of personal "name signs." These names often reflect the person's character and are usually chosen by people within the deaf community, although this is not a hard and fast rule. 

Let's take a closer look at the use of American Sign Language (ASL) names, and how they are uniquely devised.

Receiving a Name Sign

Just as your name was delicately chosen by your parents, so is your name sign, also called your ASL name. With that, it can take days to months for a deaf person (or community) to assign you your special ASL name.

Although, if you are working with deaf children, they tend to come up with a name fairly quickly—and don't be taken aback if your kid-derived name sign is humor-based, like something they found particularly funny about your appearance or personality. Put differently, try not to get offended, as choosing your name is all in good fun, and a true "sign" you are accepted into their community. 

All in all, name signs are generally chosen based on a unique characteristic of that person, like their personality. For instance, if you have a great sense of humor or a bubbly temperament, your name sign may be "Giggle" or "Sunshine."

Likewise, your name sign may signify your interest or your occupation like "Dance," or "Writer," or it may be characteristic of a physical feature, like curly hair or a beard. The bottom line is that there really is no limit or boundaries when it comes to having an ASL name.

This said, while many name signs provide a window into a person's personality or interests (called a "descriptive" name sign), others are more simple (called an "initialized" sign name). For example, for some people, their name sign is the first letter of their name, like "C," for Caitlin or "J" for Jamie.

Additionally, some people have a combination of initialized and descriptive name signs, like the first letter of their name that is swirling like a fish (maybe the person is a swimmer).

Or, if you love a specific animal, like cats, your name sign may be using the first letter of your birth name to then sign "cat's whiskers," on your cheek. If you enjoy birds, your name sign could be the first letter of your birth name combined with the sign for bird.

Lastly, it's worth noting that not everyone has a name sign, even people who have lived within the Deaf community their entire lives. This is especially true for people who have short first names, like "Pat" or "Mike." 

Introducing Your Sign Name

Whenever you introduce yourself to someone new, you should first fingerspell your actual name. Then, it's customary within the Deaf culture to explain your background, especially how you came to be involved with the Deaf community, as well as your schooling, family, and friends. Typically then, through a third party, people will learn your name sign and begin using it.

It's important to note that your name sign may change as you move to different places or change jobs. In other words, once you enter a new Deaf community, you can introduce your old name sign (which may stick); but, be prepared for your new friends to choose a new sign.

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line here is that the Deaf community has their own naming system within their native ASL language, and it's quite a gift to receive a name sign. Even more special is that your name sign is only used by Deaf people—it should not be used on official documents or by people who hear. 

If you have a name sign, you have been welcomed into the Deaf community. So accept your ASL name and enjoy this lovely honor.

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View Article Sources
  • HandSpeak: American Sign Language Online. (n.d.). Name signs: naming custom in Deaf culture.