ASL Name sign – American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language (ASL) is a complex language that has several dialectical and regional variations.  An ASL name sign is a feature in the language where a sign is given to a person that takes the place of their actual name.

Receiving a Name SignASL name sign

In sign language, names are not heard but rather seen.  So a name described out loud technically does not hold any meaning.  An ASL name sign is unique to each person, and is traditionally given to someone by another D/deaf person.  When interpreters first get into the profession, they are often evaluated by a D/deaf person then given a name sign based on observations.

Intimate Knowledge of Name Sign

An ASL name sign is typically based on physical features, behavior characteristics, or the original name.  Since the ASL name sign is used in place of the verbal name, the person seeing the sign would need to have previous knowledge of the owner of the name sign.  Only then can they know who is being referred to in a conversation.  If there is no previous knowledge, the verbal name must be finger-spelled in order to determine who the name sign belongs to.

Examples of Name Signs

Let’s see some examples of each ASL name sign variations using the name Bob:

  • Physical Features – Bob has long hair:  A D/deaf person may select a name sign that is a “B” sign language hand shape, and place it on their head with a movement down to their shoulders to indicate long hair.
  • Behavior Characteristic – Bob smiles a lot: A D/deaf person may select a name sign that is a “B” sign language hand shape and use it in the same movement as the sign language term for “smile.”
  • Play on a name – To “Bob” means to go up and down: A D/deaf person may select a name sign that is a “B” sign language hand shape and move it up and down.

Since, not everyone with the name Bob will have the same ASL name sign, during a sign language interpretation an interpreter may need to ask the D/deaf person for clarification.  Having a different ASL name sign for each person happens to be convenient when referring to several persons with the name Bob.  You will be able to know which “Bob” someone is referring to.

Check out this video to see a D/deaf person’s explanation:



Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review