What’s in a Sign Name? Second Part

Man points to his right eye.

After receiving quite a number of readers from my similar post a couple of days ago, I decided to make a follow up. Wikipedia defines sign name as “a special sign that is used to uniquely identify a person, just like a name … it has to be given to you by a deaf person“.

Sign names play an integral part of being a deaf and belonging to a Deaf community (notice the small and big D?). You are not “in” if you don’t have a sign name. It’s either you are an irrelevant person from the eyes of the Deaf or you are too significant that a special sign must be assigned to you. Here are what I observed:

  • Deaf people sometimes attach the school where they are studying/studied or are currently working/teaching in their sign names. Most often than not, schools play a very vital role in developing the deaf’s esteem and acceptance to culture. They are also proud of the school where they belong and would go in great lengths just to promote them.

    So if I met a deaf from a gathering, he introduces himself first by fingerspelling his name, then gives his sign name. Next he attaches the school where he graduated. For example, “I am Jerome (fingerspell). Here is my sign name. I graduated at Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf.” The next time I meet him, he would give his sign name then attach “MCCID”.

  • Man thumbs his teeth.

  • Deaf people also attach their nature of work in their sign names. It would be easier to recognize the deaf if you include their occupation. So, if I introduce myself, I would sign “JE” and add the sign for “teacher“. This is also applicable with most hearing personalities. For example, since Obama is not yet that popular in the Philippines, we attach the sign for “US president” on his sign name.
  • As I have mentioned in my previous post, sign names highlight a deaf person’s facial feature. A mole on his face, kinky/wavy hair, big ears, chinky eyes, etc. are most often associated with sign names.
  • Sign names can also be derived from association or relation with a deaf person. We often sign a deaf parent’s name as “Deaf’s sign name + Deaf’s relation“. For example, Jerome’s father is signed as “Jerome + papa“.
  • Observed attitudes or personal traits also include as part of sign names. However, most often than not, they are either derogatory and sometimes become a name bashing. You think insults and mockery only happen in the hearing world? Think again. Some deaf add these to highlight negative peculiarities of a fellow deaf.

    I remembered one time when I had a deaf student who has difficulty resting his right arm on his side due to bone abnormality. So he habitually hangs it in the air while walking. This makes him look dandy and gayish even though he is not. So the deaf gave him a sign that highlights his imperfection. At first he was accustomed to it. Later on, he felt abused emotionally and lowered his self-esteem. So his deaf friends suggested that he should change his sign name and put it somewhere far from his right arm. It worked.

  • Deaf also change their sign names. They do it sometimes in order to avoid being associated with their past humiliations or bad experiences. A deaf lady who was raped and abused during her childhood change her sign name in order to escape from her previous life. A deaf adult who was notorious during his high school days change his sign name so that people won’t associate him with his past indiscretions. Oh, how I wish we could do that in the hearing world.🙂

What is your sign name?🙂


  1. beth

    my family belong to the deaf community. now i understand why the deaf gave my husband a sign name bearing my son’s name plus the sign papa, i.e. “W E” (sign name of my son) + the sign “father”.




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