It's Who I Am
July 16, 2021 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Why Name Signs Matter in ASL 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. 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. (NYTimes article available from Internet Archive)

The Daily Moth interviewed the 5 women who lead the campaign (video in ASL, captions in English, transcript here).

A not as nice name sign was created for the former president (video in ASL, captions in English).

ASL That has a general description of name signs (video in ASL, captions in English).

Deafies in Drag has a tale of a name sign gone wrong (video in ASL, captions in English).
posted by Toddles (13 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
excellent article.
posted by blob at 7:43 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

Awesome article, thank you!
posted by darkstar at 7:46 PM on July 16

Lovely! Much better than the name signs I was coming up with while fussing with the NYT link. Based on the videos about name signs often being descriptive or trademark-ish ('blue eyes', Trump's hair flap), some entirely unsolicited and too-late suggestions:

Too long: the ASL for 'pioneer', which is her Secret Service call sign.*
But it's a lot of motions, more like a sign language phrase, so it's longer than just spelling out her name.
*(you've seen movies where some guy in a sunglasses and an earpiece, bodyguarding the US President says "[codename] has left the building, and is now headed for the helicopter" into his radio? Vice President Harris's codename is 'Pioneer'.)

Too short: with your right hand closed and in front of you, touch your thumb and 1st finger together, then turn your hand 90 degrees.
Pretend you're pinching a key in a lock horizontally, then turning it to vertical.
This is kind of an ASL joke on hearing people, many of whom mispronounce her name.
You say it COMMA-la, not Ka-MAH-la.
So use the ASL sign for the punctuation mark 'comma', which is that key-turning gesture.

Not quite there: make two loose fists, and hold them above your shoulders, fingernail side facing forward. Bend your wrists forward twice, like doing cute kitty paws or cheering Rah-Rah. Then bring both fists in front of you, nails down and knuckles facing forward, and bump the thumb sides together twice.
Rah-rah, bump-bump.
If I remember correctly, this is ASL for 'gym shoes', referencing the VP's somewhat trademark trainers/runners/tennies/Chucks.

posted by bartleby at 9:35 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

thanks for this! I love the videos about the name signs.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:10 PM on July 16

This was a really cool story. I really liked seeing the folks tell their own sign name stories and seeing their different styles of signing.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:36 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

this is so awesome. I wonder, do people change their name sign though their life, if their appearance changes? i noticed some from the videos were signs assigned by parents to people when they were babies (based on their dimples for instance). Do people change their name sign as an adult? Similar to changing from a diminutive version of a spoken name, like Joey -> Joe, Becky -> Rebecca.

I'm also curious to learn now how trans individuals feel about keeping or changing their name sign, and whether there is the same sense of having a dead-name, if a name sign not specifically gendered.
posted by EllaEm at 7:57 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

Absolutely fascinating!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:15 AM on July 17

EllaEm, according to the article, yes, sometimes.
posted by aniola at 9:06 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

EllaEm: The videos touch on name sign changing, and yes, equate it to changing the nickname you go by in English. One person grew up speaking Russian Sign Language, and when she went to school, she was told the sign name her family used for her had an unsavory meaning (infections). A couple others talked about the names they use now being given to them as adults. It was a really neat thing to see them describe.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:07 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

Wow I loved this! The story about Frank creating a name sign for the woman who gave him his vaccination, out of gratitude for the shot and also for her speaking a little ASL, really made me well up.
posted by babelfish at 9:38 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

Awesome. Great article, well worth watching everybody's video about their name signs.
posted by signal at 2:38 PM on July 17

Thanks for the tip folks! I just got to see the videos on the NYTimes site (they didn't show up for me on the archive page) and got lots more info on names changing over your lifetime. I was also googling to find out about trans people changing their sign name, and the consensus seems to be that it's not common to feel a need to change it because sign names are rarely gendered, unless their sign name incorporates the initial of their deadname and they feel strongly about changing that initial.
posted by EllaEm at 4:57 PM on July 17

Super interesting. Thanks!
posted by ellerhodes at 8:57 PM on July 17

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