Name Signs

Supalla, Samuel J. (1992). The Book of Name Signs: Naming in American Sign Language.  Dawn Sign Press, San Diego, CA.

Name signs are a special and valued aspect of Deaf culture.  Parents often ask us about name signs for their deaf child.  At DCS, we respect the tradition of having a Deaf person assign a name sign, but name signs should not be given quickly or without consideration of the "rules" for assignment.

Samuel Supalla's book, The Book of Name Signs: Naming in American Sign Language, helps clear up some of the confusion about name signs.  Published in 1992 by Dawn Sign Press, The Book of Name Signs explores the traditional and non-traditional aspects of name signs, and discusses their formation and use.  Supalla identifies name signs as falling into two categories: arbitrary, which have no inherent meaning attached to them or to the individual, and descriptive, which describe a physical characteristic of an individual.  Supalla indicates that arbitrary name signs are the most common, but notes that with the increase of hearing people learning ASL that there has been a mix of descriptive and arbitrary signs, leading to an increase of non-traditional name signs.  In his well-researched anaylysis of the history of name signs and their linguistic and cultural underpinnings, Supalla offers insight for those who need clarification about how name signs should be assigned, and by whom.

Though it has been 17 years since its publication, Supalla's book continues to be helpful resource on the issue of name signs.  The Book of Name Signs: Naming in American Sign Language  is available in the Deaf Children's Society library.  It is well worth reading.

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