Signing People's Names in American Sign Language

Signing People's Names in American Sign Language

By John Miller
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Signs For Common Names?

My name is John, which, as you may guess, is a pretty common name. The benefit of having a common name growing up is that whenever I went into a gift shop that had items with names on them, such as cups, buttons, belts, or what-have-you, I could always find one with my name on it. In sign language, unlike the items in the gift shop, there is no sign for John. That is, there is no specific sign that can be used for everyone who has the name John (or any other name).

Spelling Out the Name Through Fingerspelling

Since there is no common sign for a name, when refering to a person by name, you often just fingerspell it.

JOHN Fingerspelled

Sign each letter of the name. This is called fingerspelling.

Alphabet Letters in American Sign Language (ASL)

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

You can learn more about fingerspelling and the signed alphabet in the "Fingerspelling/Alphabet" section of the site.

You may also have any name (or anything else) fingerspelled on Signing Savvy. Just type the name to be fingerspelled in the search box and click the "Find Signs" button.

searching for names

Fingerspelled Names in the Dictionary

We have started adding fingerspelled videos for some names to the dictionary. If the name is already in the dictionary, you should see it when you search for the name. For example, the name J-O-H-N.

Fingerspelled Names With Other Meanings in the Dictionary

If you are searching for a name that has another English meaning, such as "AUTUMN", you will see the sign for the non-name meaning. In this case, you want the fingerspelled version of AUTUMN not the sign for the season of the year. To see the fingerspelled version, just click on the "fingerspell" button under the word to switch to the fingerspelled version.

Selecting the fingerspelled version

Fingerspelled Names Not in the Dictionary

If the name is not in the dictionary, the site will inform you that there was no direct match. However, you can see it fingerspelled by clicking on "Show Fingerspelled."

click the show fingerspelled button

The resulting video shows the fingerspelled name.

see fingerspelled name

This is a great feature you may use, not only for names, but for any word you want to see fingerspelled. This feature pulls together an image or video for each letter in the word and displays them one after the other in the order you typed. However, if a person was actually fingerspelling the word, the letters would flow together and not jump from letter to letter so abruptly. When you are watching a compiled stream of images/videos to make up a word versus a single video of a fingerspelled word, you will see a sign notice on the page letting you know.

Sign Notice

Name Signs

Fingerspelling your name can seem a bit impersonal, especially among friends. So, members of the Deaf community often give each other name signs. Your name sign is often related to something about you (a characteristic). For example, if you have curly hair, your sign name may be a combination of the first letter of your name and the sign for curly hair.

Culturally, it is not appropriate to pick your own sign name and only Deaf people assign sign names.

When you first use a sign name in a conversation, you would fingerspell the name and then show the sign name. Once the people know who you are talking about, the sign name makes it easier and more personal to refer to the person during the conversation.

You can learn more in our article: Name Signs: What Are They and How Does a Person Get a Name Sign?

Pointing in Space to Refer to Someone

When you are signing directly to someone, you often just sign YOU (point at him or her) to refer to the person you are talking with and ME (point at yourself) to refer to yourself.

When you are talking about someone else who is NOT there, you may use a similar technique, called pointing in space. In this case, you would identify the person by fingerspelling their name (or describing them, such a "my father"), and then pointing at a location in space (usually to the left or right of you). The first point marks the space that represents the person you named. After which, when refering to the person in the conversation, you can just point to the location you marked. This is another big time saver when refering to someone many times during a conversation.

pointing in space to represent a person

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