8 Name signs

English Notes
BSL Video

Name Signs

In the Deaf community, visual names known as ‘name signs’ are often used. There are different ways of forming name signs:

1. The use of fingerspelled initials, sometimes with a special movement, e.g. DM

2. The fingerspelling of short names with a movement pattern, e.g. A-N-N (mouthed as the full name, Ann)

3. The use of a sign relating to all or part of the English name. E.g. using a sign for the colour BROWN for the name BROWN, or using the sign WASH for the name WASHINGTON.

4. The creation of a special sign which describes the person in some way.

The last type of name sign is very personal to the individual and cannot be transferred to another person with the same English name. Sometimes these signs may seem impolite to hearing people, e.g. a sign indicating a hooked nose, but it would be acceptable among signers as a clear visual identification.

It is important to remember that when name signs are translated into English, no matter how they are made, they should be translated into their proper English form. In the last example above, a speaker would not say "This is Hook-Nose", but would say "This is Steven (Smith)".

Name signs are not used by Deaf people in direct conversations. Where English speakers might say "yes, Mary..." or "Henry, do you think...", BSL users substitute eye contact and do not sign the person's name. Name signs are also not used as a way of getting attention, except if it is necessary to ask another person to tap or wave to the person you name.

Name signs are used for identifying people who are not present and to single out one person in a group (e.g. in class). Deaf people are usually given their name signs at school, although they may receive new ones at various times in their lives.

On BSL courses it may be useful for the students to have name signs and the teacher may encourage the class to invent them for each other. Such signs may last as long as the course, but if a person remains in touch with the Deaf community he/she may eventually receive a permanent name sign.


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