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Sign of the Day - INVOLVE
What is a Name Sign?
When referring to a person by name, you fingerspell their name, unless they have a name sign. A name sign, also known as a sign name or ASL name, is when a sign is used instead of fingerspelling a person’s name.
How Do You Get a Name Sign?
You do not invent your own name sign. Name signs may only be given by a person in the Deaf community. Some hearing people (like interpreters and teachers) mistakenly give name signs without realizing they are in violation of Deaf culture traditions. However, a name sign cannot be assigned by a hearing person.
American Sign Language has deep cultural and linguistic significance. Typically, it is not until you are involved in the community that you are given a name sign. In fact, not everyone within the Deaf community has a name sign.
How Do You Use a Name Sign?
When first using a name sign in conversation, you begin by fingerspelling the full name, and then sign the name sign. This introduces the name sign and who it represents. Once the name sign has been introduced, people will understand what it means and the name sign may be used without also fingerspelling the name.
Types of Name Signs
Name signs often reflect an individual’s personality, physical features or background.
There are specific rules/categories for name signs:
- Arbitrary Name Signs
- Descriptive Name Signs
- Combination Name Signs
Arbitrary Name Signs
Arbitrary name signs are always initialized. They take on one or two of the letters of the alphabet, often the initials of the person's name. They typically have one of the following patterns:
- A double tap somewhere on the body.
- A tap on one location of the body, followed by a tap on another part of the body.
- The letters are out in front of the body (in neutral space).
My name sign is an example of an arbitrary name sign. My name sign is the B handshape (for Brenda) and C handshape (for Cartwright) over the heart.
Descriptive Name Signs
Descriptive name signs are never initialized. They are assigned based on characteristics such as long hair, a scar, a mole, a dimple, a cleft chin etc.
The name sign for THOMAS H. GALLAUDET is an example of a descriptive name sign. His name sign was inspired by his characteristic of wearing glasses.
Combination Name Signs
Combination name signs combine aspects of both arbitrary and descriptive name signs, often using the first letter of the person’s name.
No Name Sign - Fingerspell
Again, not everyone has a name sign. Some people in the Deaf community choose not to have a name sign. This is especially the case when a person has a name that is five or less letters or has a distinctive name, then the community often chooses to spell that person’s name in lieu of assigning a name sign.
The White House administration recognized the need for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing population, and that recognition was put into action. A full-time Certified Deaf Interpreter was hired, Elsie Stecker, along with a hearing interpreter, Lindsey Snyder.
During White House events, Lindsey Snyder, who is hearing, is off camera. She listens to the speaker and transliterates the message to Stecker who is Deaf and a native ASL user. Elsie Stecker then interprets the message into ASL in front of the camera for the deaf and hard of hearing audience. The tandem team of deaf and hearing interpreters will now be interpreting into ASL the communications and press conferences from the White House administration.
The White House administration has been providing an ASL interpreter for news conferences and briefings since early 2021, and was the first White House to provide interpretation services for a presidential speech to Congress. The hiring of a full-time Certified Deaf Interpreter was the next major step in providing real-time political coverage for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Nuances of ASL
American Sign Language (ASL) is not the same as the English language. ASL is a complete language with its own sentence structure, syntax and nuances. Most hearing ASL interpreters are not native ASL users (since they learned ASL as a second language) and thus often have a “hearing accent” when signing. By utilizing a deaf ASL interpreter, the message conveyed to the deaf and hard of hearing audiences can be relayed in its most efficient, clear, and beautiful form. ASL also delivers a feeling of tone and mood by using facial expressions and body language, and that tone does not always translate effectively with the use of printed captions.
Why the Need for Both a Hearing and a Deaf Interpreter?
In a CBS Mornings interview, Elsie Stecker relayed that deaf people who use ASL can watch and identify that a deaf person is signing on the screen. Most hearing interpreters learned ASL after learning English and have an accent when signing. Deaf people who grew up using ASL don’t have that same kind of accent. Stecker also explained that Deaf interpreters can determine what a deaf audience would need regarding appropriate terminology, and when to expand further on some descriptions.
With Lindsey Snyder listening to interpret from English to ASL directly to Elsie Stecker, and Elsie interpreting Lindsey’s message via ASL to the camera, the deaf and hard of hearing audiences are receiving the tone and structure needed to get an effectively communicated report.
Communicating Effective Messages … Including a Wider Audience
Former White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki met with the new interpreting duo, and they had the chance to relay to Jen that she perhaps talks and reads aloud faster than anyone they know. Psaki appeared to be smiling (through her mask) and took the comments to heart, saying she would work on that. Communicating tips in the White House on how to keep ASL interpretation at its highest level will be a helpful part of the job.
Both Elsie and Lindsey spend many hours each day reviewing topics that may appear on the White House schedule. They go over news reports so they are prepared for one of their favorite parts of day — the White House press briefing — at which time they go into action. With Lindsey listening and signing to Elsie, and Elsie signing to the camera, they are an effective team to deliver the real-time message to deaf and hard of hearing watchers. Elsie finds it amusing to interpret questions and answers between reporters and White House staff, often needing to sign the same answer over and over again to reporters’ similar questions, and thinking to herself, “Wasn’t that question already answered?!” Such is the nature of politics and press briefings.
Lindsey Snyder remarked, “This is the ultimate kind of team. We have our own skill set that manages to come together to put out the most effective message to bring in a community that has been marginalized for so long.”
Elsie Stecker commented, “I’m not here for myself to be in this position. I’m here for the Deaf community to have access to this message.”
As interviewed by NPR, writer and longtime deaf activist Jenna Beacom suggested that “…even with more to be done, it is a milestone in the fight for greater recognition and access.”
Elsie Stecker’s ASL interpretation may be viewed on the White House live stream at whitehouse.gov. As of this writing, C-SPAN is not showing ASL interpreters. Hopefully, major networks and more televised channels overall will begin to air more coverage that includes ASL interpreters.
See It Signed - Example Sentence
This signed sentence illustrates the sign for the word “interpreter.”
ASL Gloss: NEW INTERPRETER MY OFFICE RECENTLY HIRE.
English Example: My office just hired a new interpreter.
- CBS Mornings. (2022, March 29). White House ASL interpreters bring the President’s message to a larger audience. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwdHJ8mpihw
- CBS News. (2022, March 29). White House Hires Full-Time ASL Interpreters for First Time: “I’m here for the Deaf community.” Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-house-hires-asl-sign-interpreters-deaf-community/
- Cohen. L. (2021, January 26). White House Briefings Will Now Include an American Sign Language Interpreter. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-house-briefings-will-now-include-an-american-sign-language-interpreter/
- Gittleson, B. (2021, April 23). In 1st, White House to Provide American Sign Language Interpretation for Biden Address to Congress. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/1st-white-house-provide-american-sign-language-interpretation/story?id=77266289
- NPR. (2022, April 4). The White House Has Hired its First Full-Time ASL Interpreters. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2022/04/04/1090746199/the-white-house-has-hired-its-first-full-time-asl-interpreters
- WhiteHouse.gov. (2022, April 25). Image from Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki with Elsie Stecker signing. https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/
This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.
The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the differences. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter.
These examples are all signs you may learn when first beginning to sign and are often used as common vocabulary when doing introductions.
1. Name vs. Weight
NAME and WEIGHT look similar, but you will notice the movement used is different across these two signs. It is an important difference you will want to sign correctly because when you are first meeting someone you want to say, “My name is…” and not, “My weight is…”
- When signing NAME both hands are in the H handshape with the dominant palm facing the center with the top two fingers (index and middle fingers) resting on top of the fingers of the non-dominant palm facing the body. The dominant hand taps on top of the non-dominant hand two times. Think of forming an X with your fingers as you form the sign and the X represents the place where a name is placed when writing a signature.
- When signing WEIGHT both hands are in the H handshape with the dominant palm facing the center with the top two fingers (index and middle fingers) resting on top of the fingers of the non-dominant palm facing the body. The dominant hand makes a downward dipping motion. Think of the weight on a scale.
2. I vs. You
Both of these signs use the index finger to point at the subject. Although they use the same handshape and movement, it is easy to tell the difference between them because we commonly use these hand movements when speaking. Point at yourself when signing I and point at the person you are talking about when signing YOU.
3. You (also He and Her) vs. Your (also His and Hers)
Here’s where we get a little tricky with new signers and they quickly learn the importance of handshape and how using a different handshape will change the meaning of a sign. With both signs, you point toward your subject. Use the index finger to point when signing YOU and use the open B handshape when signing YOUR. Remember the sign for YOUR by thinking of pushing something toward someone to show that it is “yours” or belongs to them.
4. Your vs. My
Now, if you can remember to use the open B handshape when signing both of these signs, you will be all set. The movement and directionality of these signs is the easy part to remember. As mentioned above, you can remember the sign for YOUR by thinking of pushing something toward someone to show that it is “yours” or belongs to them. You can remember MY by thinking of something you hold close to yourself.
5. My (also Mine) vs. I (also Me)
Similar to the differences between YOU or YOUR, the important difference between these two signs is the handshape. Both signs point toward your body. I uses the index finger and MY uses the open B hand.
6. Good vs. Bad
Just like MY and YOUR, with both of these signs, the dominant hand is in the open B handshape. The dominant hand, with the palm facing up, starts near the chin and and moves down into the palm of the non-dominant hand. The dominant hand moves straight down when signing GOOD, while it flips over and lands palm down into the non-dominant hand when signing BAD.
7. Meet (as in “I met”) vs. Meet (as in “meet me”) vs. Meet (as in “they met”)
MEET is signed using a directional sign. Directional signs are signs that describe both the action and who performed the action. By changing the directionality of the sign, the meaning is changed.
These three examples all show how to sign MEET, each with different meanings.
- MEET (as in "I met"): The dominant hand moves away from your body and towards the non-dominant hand. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people – the dominant hand represents you and the non-dominant hand represents another person. The dominant hand (you) moves towards the non-dominant hand (the other person) to sign you meeting someone.
- MEET (as in "meet me"): The non-dominant hand moves towards your body and dominant hand. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people – the dominant hand represents you and the non-dominant hand represents another person. The non-dominant hand (the other person) moves towards the dominant hand (you) to sign someone meeting you.
- MEET (as in "they met"): Both hands begin at each side of the torso and move towards each other ending in front of the chest. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people. They come together to sign two people meeting.
These examples show how small changes in position and movement change the meaning of what is being signed.
How can I figure out the difference between signs on my own?
If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, and you’re not sure, you may use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members may access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs will help you figure out the small differences between them that your eyes don’t catch at first. We also recommend using the pause and slow motion feature to slow down the video, so you may take a closer look. These features are available to Signing Savvy members.