The ambiguous gift of sign names

BBC Ouch! magazine has a completely fascinating article on sign names in the deaf community. They are like mandatory formal nicknames decided by a consensus of your peers that reflect something distinctive about you.

The article describes how assigning and accepting one can be a tricky social negotiation with some having to mount campaigns against unwanted sign names.

Sign names are a weird and wonderful thing, where your average hearing names like Matt, Jack or Jane look positively plain.

But before you get too excited about the possibility of throwing your dull, former identity away, let me point something out: you don’t get to choose your sign name. You don’t even get power of veto on it. It is given to you.

It makes sense. If deaf people could choose their name, you’d get loads of guys wandering around calling themselves Stud, Beer Belly or Jackie Chan’s Lovechild. Women would probably call themselves Lip Gloss, Model or Soft Hair. I’m generalising, and stereotyping, but you get my point.

When a sign name is given to you, it’s special. A bit like losing your deaf virginity. It‚Äôs thought up after an intense period of observation, when people have worked out firstly whether they like you enough to give you one (a sign name, that is), and they’ve taken all your habits and mannerisms into account to find a name that best sums you up.

I have to say, I find watching sign language completely enthralling. It always seems like a wonderful form of cognitive ballet to me.

Obviously, it has its practical uses to, as demonstrated by this video tutorial on how to flirt using sign language.

Link to article on the social complexities of sign names (via MeFi).

One thought on “The ambiguous gift of sign names”

  1. I can relate to that penultimate paragraph. I also find sign language completely mesmerizing: Right next to Swedish in my To-Learn list.

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