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Signing People's Names in Sign Language

Signing People's Names in Sign Language

Learning Tips   |  Saturday, March 28, 2009

By John Miller

Signs for common names?

My name is John, which, as you can 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 langage, 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

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

Since there is likely not going to be a sign for the name, the site will inform you that it was not able to find a sign, however you can have it fingerspelled. In this case, I clicked the "Have JOHN fingerspelled?" link.

search results

The resulting video shows the fingerspelling of my name.

fingerspelled name

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 "FS" button to the right of the word to switch to the fingerspelled version.

selecting the fingerspelled version of a sign

Sign names

Fingerspelling your name can seem a bit impersonal, especially among friends. So, members of the Deaf community often give each other sign names. Your sign name 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.

Pointing in space

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 can 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. Afterwhich, 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

 

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