Saturday, September 1, 2012

Offensive or Not: Asking a Deaf Person to Change Sign Name?

I'm finally back in the swing with the "It's the Deaf Thing" post! It feels like it has been awhile since I've last typed up a post for this subject. I may not be able to type frequent posts about Deaf issues like I used to pre-pregnancy since I have a little man to keep me on my toes. However, I do plan on having at least 2-3 topic posted every month as my goal and to take breaks from babbling about my son way too much (even though I'd like to do that, ha ha). 

Recently, a friend of mine brought this article, A Preschooler Asked To Change His Sign Name, to my attention. Feel free to click on the link above if you want to read the article. If you don't feel like reading it then here's the summary in a nutshell. A toddler has a sign name that resembled a gun. The school does not like that his sign name resembled a gun, and asked the toddler's parents to change his sign name. To a hearing person, it may appear not to be a big deal, but to a Deaf person and Deaf world; it is a big deal. It is extremely offensive to ask a Deaf person to change the sign name. 

The reason why it is offensive is because a sign name is an unique characteristic of a Deaf person's identity. A sign name reflects personality, livelihood, characteristic, or a trait of a Deaf person. For example, my sign name reflects the sign for a girl. Why is that? I do not know. I did not pick the sign name. Someone else gave it to me. I could have changed my name if I wish to, but I have always stuck with the given sign name mainly because I am already used to it. 

Traditionally, a sign name can't be given or made up by a hearing person. It must be given by a Deaf person. Anyone can receive a sign name, Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or hearing, as long as it is given by a Deaf person. A sign name can reflect physical appearance such as coming up with the first letter of a person's name and wiggle the name down the hair to reflect a person's long hair or making up a sign to reflect a person's favorite pastime activity. A friend of mine has a sign name of a monkey simply because he's a class clown while my other friend has a sign name of modified dog (patting the thigh, snapping her finger then forming the first letter of her name) to reflect her love of dogs. 

My sign name is Ashley (yes, similar as sign for a girl) 
To ask a Deaf person to completely remove or change the sign name is highly offensive. Imagine that, if someone approaches you in school, a teacher or a principal, and says to you that you must change your name simply because he/she does not like the name. How would you feel about that? Probably confused, angry, and hurt, right? Your name is uniquely you. The way how people pronounce your name, or even give you a nickname only intensifies your connection with the name. Nobody else has that except you. Same goes for a Deaf person, and HOH (Hard of Hearing) people and their sign names. 

Just because a sign name may reflect less than desirable sign, such as a gun, does not set a precedence or encourage violence to occur. We do not know the background of this boy's sign name. Perhaps it is to reflect his name, HUNT-ER, (the sign for hunting can be in form of a gun pointing around--there are several different ways to sign hunting, and the one I just gave you is an example of  a few). 

For the school to request this child's sign name to be changed only reflects their ignorance and misunderstanding of Deaf culture.


  1. I agree the school is out of line, but what bugged me about the story was that the media made it seem like the child set up the sign which obviously he didn't, his parents did. And his parents likely are just learning sign language themselves. Media made it look like the 3 year old chose the sign but he is only taking on that sign someone chose for him.

  2. I am not gonna lie, I was SHOCKED when I read this story. It was very sad. As a teacher I can't imagine asking any kid to change things about themselves, especially something as intimate as a name! To little kids, that is like saying you aren't good the way you are. How hurtful! My heart goes out to him! Speaking of...What is Forest's sign name? :-P

  3. Forrest's sign name is "F" in sign language abc then wiggle the F. We are waiting on his personality to emerge a bit more before giving him a concrete sign name. An excellent question, BTW! :)

    Yes, I agree that media did blow it out of proportion mainly for attention grabber headliner. What's new with that anyway, right? The parents probably did give the sign name to the child OR a Deaf person/friend gave it to the child. It is definitely most not from the child himself.

  4. Did you hear the update on this? Because of the outcry towards the story they will not make him change his name (yay!).

  5. The family used SEE in the home so that would explain the name sign.

    It's still ahorrible thing to ask anyone to do.