Politics

What Matters in a Name Sign?

Shortly after the 2020 presidential election, five women joined forces with a mission: assigning Vice President-elect Kamala Harris a name sign, the equivalent of a person’s name in American Sign Language.

The women, Ebony Gooden, Kavita Pipalia, Smita Kothari, Candace Jones and Arlene Ngalle-Paryani — as Black and Indian members of the “capital D Deaf community” (a term used by some deaf people to indicate that they embrace deafness as a cultural identity and communicate primarily through ASL) — felt it was important that the selection of Ms. Harris’s name sign be the result of an inclusive and democratic process. Given that Vice President Harris was the first female vice president, as well as the first Black and Indian candidate to fill the role, they agreed that her heritage should inform that process, the women recalled in an interview using interpreters.

Turning to social media, they called on other Black and Indian deaf women to join their effort. They set up a system for people to submit suggestions for a name sign, advertised their initiative and its guidelines, led virtual panels and collected video submissions. Eventually, they put the entries to a vote.

Ms. Ngalle-Paryani’s own submission won: a hand gesture that involves rotating your wrist externally as your thumb, index and middle finger unfurl open. The


name sign
draws inspiration, among other things, from the sign for “lotus flower” — the direct translation of the word “Kamala” in Sanskrit — and incorporates the number 3 to underscore Ms. Harris’s trifecta of firsts.

loading video

“It’s truly a badge of honor,” Ms. Ngalle-Paryani said, signing, of the selection of her submission. “I really do feel that it fits Madam Vice President.”

Name signs, also known as sign names, are an important component of “capital D Deaf” culture. In 1992, the linguist Samuel J. Supalla noted in “The Book of Name Signs” that they serve two functions: They provide deaf people with a way to identify themselves and others in conversation, while also representing “a Deaf person’s membership in the Deaf community.”

Isabella Kogan

Zavier Sabio

Marsellette Davis

[Video description: Isabella Kogan, wearing a jean jacket, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] Isabella Kogan. So name signs generally are given to a deaf person from a member of the Deaf community, and I’m from a deaf family myself. My family is from Ukraine. We used Russian Sign Language growing up. When I was born, my family gave me this old name sign: [signs her old name sign twice] I ended up going to a deaf school, and transferred to another deaf school. I was the new kid, and I introduced myself and I showed everyone my sign name: [signs her old name] And the teaching assistant said to me: This sign for the letter “I” actually stands for infections. So they asked if they could give me another sign name. They changed the location and movement to this: [signs her name sign three times] These are examples of hand shapes we use in American Sign Language. In my name sign, the hand shape is an initialized letter “I” borrowed from the English language. Using the “I,” to follow the waves of my hair. Now it’s become very common to use name signs with various hair types and styles, like these: [shows examples of name signs referring to different hairstyles] So I have to correct people on getting the correct hand shape and position. It can be confused, though, which is no different than spoken names; people still mispronounce or misspell someone’s names wrong as well. People just get confused with the signs of the spelling of names. My hearing family members will still use the first name sign, but people in the community use the new name sign. That’s my name sign story. [Video ends.]

loading video

Isabella Kogan.

So name signs generally are given to a deaf person from a member of the Deaf community,

and I’m from a deaf family myself.

My family is from Ukraine.

We used Russian Sign Language growing up.

When I was born, my family gave me this old name sign:

I ended up going to a deaf school, and transferred to another deaf school.

I was the new kid, and I introduced myself and I showed everyone my sign name.

And the teaching assistant said to me:

This sign for the letter “I” actually stands for infections.

So they asked if they could give me another sign name.

They changed the location and movement to this:

These are examples of hand shapes we use in American Sign Language.

In my name sign, the hand shape is an initialized letter “I” borrowed from the English language.

Using the “I” to follow the waves of my hair.

Now it’s become very common to use name signs with various hair types and styles,

like these:

So I have to correct people on getting the correct hand shape and position.

It can be confused, though, which is no different than spoken names —

people still mispronounce or misspell someone’s names wrong as well.

People just get confused with the signs of the spelling of names.

My hearing family members will still use the first name sign,

but people in the community use the new name sign.

That’s my name sign story.

[Video description: Zavier Sabio, wearing a light blue shirt and black pants, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] I’m Zavier Sabio. My sign name is: [signs his name sign three times] So, how did I get my name sign? What can I say… It’s uh, not quite something I was exactly proud of. But I eventually became used to it. So one of my best friends who I grew up with, we were in the same class in middle school down in Brooklyn, and I was always one of the smartest students in class. I always got an A on my homework, tests — you name it. And so one day somebody said, “You know that guy Zavier? He’s really smart.” And it got to the point where my friend decided it. He was like, I think I know a good name sign for you, referencing “smart,” [signs “smart”] because everyone is always calling you smart. So they used the sign name for “smart” to become Zavier. Because it’s the letter “Z” made with the one hand shape, which is used for the sign “smart.” Moving it this way makes it “Zavier,” modifying the sign for “smart” to “Zavier.” That’s what it’s been ever since. It’s who I am. It’s all about finding your personality traits, your character, what you’re known for. It tells a story and the story of who you are, you know what I mean? I’ve had that sign name since I was around 10 years old in middle school. It fits me. Everyone who knows me, when you sign Zavier, it fits. [Video ends.]

loading video

I’m Zavier Sabio.

My sign name is:

So, how did I get my name sign?

What can I say…

It’s, uh, not quite something I was exactly proud of.

But I eventually became used to it.

So one of my best friends who I grew up with,

we were in the same class in middle school

down in Brooklyn,

and I was always one of the smartest students in class.

I always got an A on my homework, tests

—you name it.

And so one day somebody said,

“You know that guy Zavier?

He’s really smart.”

And it got to the point where my friend decided it.

He was like, I think I know a good name sign for you,

referencing “smart,”

because everyone is always calling you smart.

So they used the sign name for “smart” to become Zavier.

Because it’s the letter “Z” made with the one hand shape, which is used for the sign “smart.”

Moving it this way makes it “Zavier,” modifying the sign for “smart” to “Zavier.”

That’s what it’s been ever since. It’s who I am.

It’s all about finding your personality traits,

your character, what you’re known for.

It tells a story and the story of who you are, you know what I mean?

I’ve had that sign name since I was around

10 years old in middle school.

It fits me. Everyone who knows me,

when you sign Zavier, it fits.

[Video description: Marsellette Davis, wearing a red shirt and cat-eye glasses, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] Hello. My name is Miss Marsellette. My sign name is: [signs name sign] Your name is something that applies to you. To give a sign name, you have to have a reason behind it. Once we in the Deaf community get to know who you are, then we can honor you with respect by giving you a sign name. My mother gave me my sign name, the handshapes “M” and “D” located at the chest, for my heart, and being the center of attention. So now, as I grew up and went to deaf school, people used my name sign but would emphasize it right between my boobs. So I asked why they signed it like that, and they would say, “Your boobs are your best feature.” That’s what people would tell me. When I got older, I kept the same sign name. The reason why is because I have heart, I’m the center of attention. My vibes and my stimulation. I always share my heart with others, including you. So that’s why I kept my sign name. Not on the shoulder and not anywhere else. Nope. And this is my sign name. [Signs name sign. Video ends.]

loading video

Hello. My name is Miss Marsellette.

My sign name is:

Your name is something that applies to you.

To give a sign name, you have to have a reason behind it.

Once we in the Deaf community get to know who you are,

then we can honor you with respect by giving you a sign name.

My mother gave me my sign name, the handshapes “M” and “D” located at the chest,

for my heart, and being the center of attention.

So now, as I grew up and went to deaf school,

people used my name sign but would emphasize it right between my boobs.

So I asked why they signed it like that, and they would say,

“Your boobs are your best feature.” That’s what people would tell me.

When I got older, I kept the same sign name.

The reason why is because I have heart, I’m the center of attention.

My vibes and my stimulation.

I always share my heart with others,

including you.

So that’s why I kept my sign name.

Not on the shoulder and not anywhere else.

Nope.

And this is my sign name.

Benjamin J. Bahan, a professor in the Deaf Studies department at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation’s only liberal arts university devoted to deaf people, said that “name signs usually come from parents who are deaf.” If a child does not receive one growing up, perhaps because he or she was raised by hearing parents, he added, the name may be assigned at a later stage.

As people go through life, they may receive new name signs that replace earlier ones. If they have a strong connection to other countries, they may also receive name signs in other sign languages, such as Japanese Sign Language or Russian Sign Language. (Vice President Harris was recently assigned a name sign in British Sign Language.)

[Video description: Via Zoom, Arlene Ngalle-Paryani, wearing a purple shirt with a lotus graphic, begins to sign] I’m part of the group of five women who voted and selected the sign name for Vice President Kamala Harris. [Five women, including Arlene, appear in a grid and sign the newly selected name sign for Vice President Kamala Harris. Then, Candace Jones, wearing a purple shirt, begins to sign] I just have to tell you, there are special rules. If a hearing person wants to have a name sign, they cannot make it up themselves because they’re not deaf, and they’re not culturally deaf. So they have to allow a deaf person to identify their characteristics, maybe their facial features, their personality, and the deaf person will assign them a sign name. [Smita Kothari, wearing yellow, begins to sign] There often are sign names given to leaders, and it’s mostly the white community who gets involved. [Kavita Pipalia, wearing pink and orange, begins to sign] We needed to be involved as women representatives, and demonstrate that women can become leaders. [Ebony Gooden, wearing a white shirt, begins to sign] Coming together as a group and creating a safe space to combine our voices, our culture, our language, our different beliefs, and allow our differences to vibe with each other. We had to grab this opportunity. [Arlene begins to sign] I’m the one that created the sign name. Which was an honor. I did research into what Kamala’s name meant, which is lotus flower. And when I read about the lotus flower, the characteristics of it, I found that the lotus flower has very large blossoms with very deep, muddy roots. And out of that deep muddiness, it still grows a beautiful and strong flower. Now, the reason why the hand shape represents the number 3 is because she’s the first woman vice president, She’s also the first Black and Indian vice president. Also, the lotus has its blossoms that we sign with the “five” hand shape, but for Kamala, we use “three.” I found it to be very important for me to become involved with the creation of Vice President Kamala Harris’s sign name because I’m Black and I’m biracial. I’m not Indian, but I am Hispanic. And my child is half Black mixed with Hispanic and Indian. So I feel a strong connection with Kamala Harris. It was worth it for me to contribute. [Video ends.]

loading video

I’m part of the group of five women

who voted and selected the sign name for Vice President Kamala Harris.

I just have to tell you, there are special rules.

If a hearing person wants to have a name sign,

they cannot make it up themselves because they’re not deaf,

and they’re not culturally deaf.

So they have to allow a deaf person

to identify their characteristics.

Maybe their facial features, their personality,

and the deaf person will assign them a sign name.

There often are sign names given to leaders,

and it’s mostly the white community who gets involved.

We needed to be involved as women representatives,

to demonstrate that women can become leaders.

Coming together as a group and creating a safe space to combine our voices,

our culture, our language, our different beliefs,

allowing our differences to vibe with each other.

We had to grab this opportunity.

I’m the one who created the sign name,

which was an honor.

I did research into what Kamala’s name meant, which is lotus flower.

And when I read about the lotus flower, the characteristics of it,

I found that the lotus flower has very large blossoms with very deep, muddy roots.

And out of that deep muddiness, it still grows a beautiful and strong flower.

Now, the reason why the hand shape represents the number 3

is because she’s the first woman vice president,

and she’s also the first Black and Indian vice president.

Also, the lotus has its blossoms that we sign with the “five” hand shape,

but for Kamala, we use “three.”

I found it to be very important for me to become involved with the creation

of Vice President Kamala Harris’s sign name because

I’m Black and I’m biracial.

I’m not Indian, but I am Hispanic,

and my child is half Black mixed with Hispanic and Indian.

So I feel a strong connection with Kamala Harris.

It was worth it for me to contribute.

In ASL, people’s name signs coexist with their English names, which are used for official purposes and can be communicated by fingerspelling — spelling out the name letter by letter, using hand shapes for the alphabet.

Dr. Supalla writes that name signs can be classified as being arbitrary, descriptive or nontraditional.

Arbitrary names use alphabetic hand shapes, corresponding to the initial of one’s first, middle or last name. Several combinations are possible based on the location of the hands in relation to the body, as well as whether there is any movement involved. Dr. Supalla shares in his book that his name sign belongs to this category; it consists of the hand shape associated with the letter “S,” moving from one side of the chin to the other.

Descriptive names are normally based on personal characteristics — like personality or appearance and are conveyed through hand shapes that are known as classifiers, evocative of the attributes.

Nontraditional name signs combine elements from arbitrary and descriptive naming conventions.

Dr. Supalla explains in his book that while originally, name signs were reserved for deaf people, the growing number of hearing people who use ASL and regularly interact with deaf people has meant that many non-deaf individuals today have name signs. Even so, hearing people may never assign a name sign. As Ms. Ngalle-Paryani noted, only a deaf person may do so.

Dr. Padden said that recently, deaf people have become more engaged in the process of selecting name signs for hearing politicians and well-known individuals. It’s a way for people to acknowledge those individuals “and show alliance with them,” she said.

In some cases, however, name signs can also be used to make fun of or signal a lack of respect for someone, Dr. Padden added. A name sign for the former President Richard M.


Nixon,
for example, is a combination of the letter “N” and the sign for “lie.” One name sign used for former President Donald J. Trump is a mocking reference to his hair; his supporters normally fingerspell his name instead.

loading video

Frank Dattolo

Monique Holt

Andres Piedrahita

Onudeah Nicolarakis

[Video description: Frank Dattolo, wearing a black shirt, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] Frank. My name sign is: [signs name sign] That sign name was given to me by my friend from college at Gallaudet University. His name is Kay. He gave me this name sign. And the reason is because back in 1987, there was new wave music, like punk rock. My hairstyle at that time looked like this. [gestures a hair swoop] Which represents my name right now. People would say, like, “Who’s that guy with the hair?” People would be like, “Oh, his name is Frank. They’d ask, who’s he?” “It’s Frank.” And then just people would say that all the time. A friend said, “It will be your name sign now.” The Deaf community is extremely small, so it’s easy for a name sign to become known in the community. I remember well before there was social media, I’d go to events and meet people; I’d introduce myself with my name sign. And then they’d say, “Oh yes, I’ve seen your name sign before.” So it’s really interesting how people can remember someone’s name sign before they even meet you. And this is it, my name sign. And that just stuck since college. Since 1987 until today, it’s still my name sign, and I’ve kept it all this time. Thank you Kay, I love you. [Video ends.]

loading video

Frank.

My name sign is:

That sign name was given to me by my friend from college at Gallaudet University.

His name is Kay.

He gave me this name sign.

And the reason is because back in 1987,

there was new wave music, like punk rock.

My hairstyle at that time looked like this.

Which represents my name right now.

People would say, like, “Who’s that guy with the hair?”

People would be like, “Oh, his name is Frank. They’d ask, who’s he?”

“It’s Frank.”

And then just people would say that all the time.

A friend said, “It will be your name sign now.”

The Deaf community is extremely small,

so it’s easy for a name sign to become known in the community.

I remember well before there was social media,

I’d go to events and meet people;

I’d introduce myself with my name sign.

And then they’d say, “Oh yes, I’ve seen your name sign before.”

So it’s really interesting how people can remember someone’s name sign

before they even meet you.

And this is it, my name sign. And that just stuck since college.

Since 1987 until today, it’s still my name sign, and I’ve kept it all this time.

Thank you Kay, I love you.

[Video description: Monique Holt, wearing a sleeveless black dress and sneakers, sitting cross-legged on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] My name sign is: [signs name sign three times] You can’t just automatically give someone a name sign. For me, it is very personal. I just spoke with my mom this morning, and I was asking her for more information about my name sign. My mom said there was no real reason. She just decided “M” for Monique and then she put it on my chin and that was it. That was her reasoning. It’s a gift from my family, and so I’ve embraced it. [Video ends.]

loading video

My name is Monique Holt.

My name sign is:

You can’t just automatically give someone a name sign.

For me, it is very personal.

I just spoke with my mom this morning,

and I was asking her for more information about my name sign.

My mom said there was no real reason. She just decided “M” for Monique

and then she put it on my chin and that was it.

That was her reasoning.

It’s a gift from my family,

and so I’ve embraced it.

[Video description: Andres Piedrahita, wearing a gray shirt and jeans, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] My name is Andres Piedrahita. This is my sign name: [signs his name sign] I didn’t have a sign name until I was about 7 or 8. I was on my bike, I fell and I hit my mouth on the curb and I knocked one tooth out. So when I was in school, everyone identified me as the person with the missing tooth. So my sign name is this: [signs his name sign] That gesture, with the initial “A,” became my sign name. And this is a sign for “empty.” Sign “empty,” like a missing tooth. The “A” handshape, to “empty.” It was a perfect match for me, and has always been my sign name. Also, since my childhood, I’ve always been an avid biker. So it’s easy to remember that association with my name sign and biking. I don’t have a missing tooth anymore, but it still matches me and I’m comfortable with it. [Video ends.]

loading video

My name is Andres Piedrahita.

This is my sign name:

I didn’t have a sign name until I was about 7 or 8.

I was on my bike, I fell and I hit my mouth on the curb

and I knocked one tooth out.

So when I was in school,

everyone identified me as the person with the missing tooth.

So my sign name is this:

That gesture, with the initial “A,” became my sign name.

And this is a sign for “empty.”

Sign “empty,” like a missing tooth.

The “A” handshape, to “empty.”

It was a perfect match for me, and has always been my sign name.

Also, since my childhood, I’ve always been an avid biker.

So it’s easy to remember that association with my name sign and biking.

I don’t have a missing tooth anymore,

but it still matches me and I’m comfortable with it.

[Video description: Onudeah Nicolarakis, wearing a black dress and white sneakers, sitting on a chair against a gray backdrop, begins to sign] My name is Oni, and it’s just a three-letter name, so it was easy to just spell it. And so that’s what I did for many years growing up. Many people tried to give me a sign name throughout the years. They would try to create signs that signified my hair or my smile, or my laugh. I never felt like those sign names matched me, and so I never accepted any of them. I finally had a good friend of mine who I chatted with. And, you know, my personality is very cool, unbothered, and not someone who is easily upset, or timid. I’m very outspoken, very opinionated. I have a very strong personality. My friend noticed that about me, and they said, this should be my sign name: [signs name sign] I use the middle finger that plucks my shoulder, because, you know, I shrug things off a lot. I’m a go getter. And I definitely agreed it matched me. And so I’ve kept the same name ever since. And I feel like it’s a good match for my personality. That’s the story of my name sign. [Video ends.]

loading video

My name is Oni,

and it’s just a three-letter name,

so it was easy to just spell it.

And so that’s what I did for many years growing up.

Many people tried to give me a sign name throughout the years.

They would try to create signs that signified my hair

or my smile, or my laugh.

I never felt like those sign names matched me,

and so I never accepted any of them.

I finally had a good friend of mine who I chatted with —

And, you know, my personality is very cool, unbothered.

I’m not someone who is easily upset, or timid.

I’m very outspoken, very opinionated.

I have a very strong personality.

My friend noticed that about me,

and they said, this should be my sign name:

I use the middle finger that plucks my shoulder,

because, you know, I shrug things off a lot.

I’m a go getter.

And I definitely agreed it matched me.

And so I’ve kept the same name ever since.

And I feel like it’s a good match for my personality.

That’s the story of my name sign.

Ms. Gooden, one of the five women who came together for Ms. Harris’s name, said that as the conversation around a possible name sign for the vice president started taking shape on social media, non-Black and non-Indian deaf individuals — mostly men — were leading the dialogue.

For the women involved, it was key that Black and Indian deaf women were part of the process, given Ms. Harris’s background.

“Name signs given to political leaders are usually created by white men, but for this one we wanted to not only represent women, but diversity — Black women, Indian women,” Ms. Kothari said. For her, social media was a powerful way of making sure the perspectives of minorities were included. (The project was even more significant because Vice President Harris has in the past spoken publicly in support of deaf rights, Ms. Pipalia said.)

[Video description: Isabella begins to sign:] Yes, I’ve given many deaf students their name signs. Name signs often used initials from English, but now there’s more of a desire to have something that is more personal, or something that lights them up. It’s important to give a sign name that really considers and values who a person is. It shouldn’t be labels that are thoughtlessly mass produced in a factory. This one child, a student of mine, was very mischievous, with a very engaging personality, so I gave them a sign name that looks like “cute.” [signs name sign] Another sign name I gave was like this, “zoom,” [signs name sign] because this child would like to just kind of explore. [Monique begins to sign:] People tend to have two or three name signs throughout their lifetime, which is similar to hearing people. You know, they grow up and might have a nickname. [Marsellette begins to sign:] The last person I gave a name sign to, it was because someone else gave her a Signed Exact English sign name that just didn’t match. And so I created a sign with “dance,” because she loved to dance. [signs the name sign three times] And so that’s her sign name. Her name starts with the letter “V.” “V” looks like a person dancing. [Frank begins to sign:] I was waiting in line to get my Covid vaccination. And then finally it was my turn, and I’m obviously deaf, so I was using an app on my phone to communicate with the pharmacist. And then the pharmacist said, “Well, I know a little sign language.” And I said, You know what? Today, I feel so honored that you gave me the vaccination and you know sign language. Her name is Jasmine, she had really beautiful, black, wavy hair so I gave her the sign name: [signs name sign three times] And it was my first vaccination and when I go for my second, hopefully she’ll remember her name sign that I gave her: [signs Jasmine’s name sign] [Video ends.]

loading video

Yes, I’ve given many deaf students their name signs.

Name signs often used initials from English,

but now there’s more of a desire

to have something that is more personal.

Something that honors their family heritage

or something that lights them up.

It’s important to give a sign name

that really considers and values who a person is.

It shouldn’t be labels that are thoughtlessly mass produced in a factory.

This one child, a student of mine, was very mischievous,

with a very engaging personality,

so I gave them a sign name that looks like “cute.”

Another sign name I gave was

like this, “zoom,”

because this child would like to just kind of explore.

go on adventures, “zooming“ around quickly.

People tend to have two or three name signs

throughout their lifetime,

which is similar to hearing people.

You know, they grow up and might have a nickname.

The last person I gave a name sign to,

it was because someone gave her a Signed Exact English sign name

that just didn’t match.

And so I created a sign with “dance,”

because she loved to dance.

And so that’s her sign name.

Her name starts with the letter “V.” “V” looks like a person dancing.

I was waiting in line to get my Covid vaccination.

And then finally it was my turn,

and I’m obviously deaf,

so I was using an app on my phone

to communicate with the pharmacist.

And then the pharmacist said, “Well, I know a little sign language.”

And I said, You know what?

Today, I feel so honored that you gave me the vaccination

and you know sign language.

Her name is Jasmine,

she had really beautiful, black, wavy hair —

so I gave her the sign name:

And then she said, “Oh, Jasmine,” and signed it back.

And we both had a moment together.

And it was my first vaccination and when I go for my second,

I hope to see her again.

And hopefully she’ll remember her name sign that I gave her:

“As a group of deaf women that are Black and Asian, we were creating visibility for us but we were also showing that we have agency,” Ms. Pipalia added. “It was a historic moment.”

Equally important, Ms. Pipalia said, was including the diverse linguistic perspectives of deaf people, which is why the group included women fluent in ASL as well as Black American Sign Language, or BASL, a variation that is specific to people who are Black and deaf in the United States.

Ms. Gooden said that it was important to be collaborative and inclusive, especially in light of some controversy that accompanied the selection of a name sign for President

I don’t know his sign name, sorry.

I just fingerspell his name:

Biden.


Biden.
(One sign under consideration resembled a gesture associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Another has been criticized for being similar to a gang sign.) “We want to definitely stay away from that misinterpretation, especially when choosing a name sign of significance,” said Ms. Jones, an ASL and BASL teacher.

loading video

I don’t know his sign name, sorry.

I just fingerspell his name:

Biden.

Ms. Pipalia said that she hopes that by taking the lead in the initiative to pick a name sign for Vice President Harris, the group is setting an example for other deaf women who feel marginalized and inviting them to take charge in their lives. “I hope that this can open the door for others to follow, just like our vice president, Kamala Harris, is doing,” she said.

Most Related Links :
Business News Governmental News Finance News

Need Your Help Today. Your $1 can change life.

[charitable_donation_form campaign_id=57167]

Source link

Back to top button