In Deaf culture and sign language, a sign name (or a name sign) is a special sign that is used to uniquely identify a person, just like a name. In the American Deaf community, there are some special cultural rules around sign names; for example, they must be agreed upon by the named person and the broader Deaf community. This ensures that no one else in the community already has the same sign name or that the same sign has a different meaning. Until a person receives a sign name, the person's name is usually fingerspelled.
In different cultures
Different deaf cultures appear to have different customs around sign names. For example, in the Deaf American community, sign names are usually subdivided into two naming systems: descriptive (DNS) and arbitrary (ANS). The DNS system manually illustrates physical features, and the ANS system is the first letter of their English name applied to one or more locations. An ANS sign is usually just a unique sign without other meaning, but there may be family patterns, like all the children in a family having names signed at the chin.
In Swedish Sign Language and French Sign Language, it is the DNS system that dominates. In British Sign Language and Japanese Sign Language, people may be named with a lexical sign for something related to them. In Japanese Sign Language, sign names for males tend to be articulated with the thumb prominent, and those for females gave the pinky tending to be prominent, corresponding to the general use of those digits in signs denoting males and females respectively.
The practice has a counterpart in North American Indian practices in which (spoken) names were also acquired by a personality trait, a physical feature, or especially a defining memorable event, and in which a name might also change if a still more significant occasion seemed to call for it.
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