Earlier this week a news story went viral on my “Deaf” news feed. Friends and interpreter co-workers were all a buzz over a story regarding a Nebraska school district that requested a preschool boy change his sign name because it looked like a gun.
Sign names, like given names, have a very personal and cultural connection. Your sign name is your Deaf identity, regardless of if you are Deaf, hearing, interpreter, parent, neighbor, friend. It is how you are “known” by your cultural group and therefore not easily changed. I also want to clarify that this is not a nickname. When you can’t hear or speak the syllables of your name, the visual name you are given IS your name. It is who you are.
Sign names are not handed out willy nilly. There are “rules” to these names. In the book “Name Signs, Naming in American Sign Language” the Deaf author examines and explains the significance of naming in the American Deaf culture. The deep history, the importance of identity in a historically oppressed culture and how your name becomes your connection to the people of that culture.
While there are many more rules than what I am about to list, almost all sign names should follow these general principals:
- Name signs are bestowed upon you by a Deaf person in the community.
- A teacher, friend, pastor, mentor
- Name signs typically will use an “identifying” feature.
- Hair type, facial feature, physical feature,
- In some families sign names hold a special location.
- For example, my husband and his father share a different initialization in the same location.
- Sign Names sometimes use the first initial of a persons first or last name, but not always and it is not a requirement.
- Sign names usually are placed in neutral space on the torso or face.
As you can tell, I am passionate about the culture and it’s people. When I read this story of the little boy, named Hunter, who was (allegedly) asked by his school to change his name sign, I was extremely disturbed. This child’s sign name loosely (and I mean loosely) represents a pointed gun. Which apparently is a violation of the schools weapons policy. Seriously? Would the same school tell a child’s parents that the name “Gunner” was inappropriate? Or what about “Blaze”? Of course not. That is ridiculous.
Just as ridiculous as asking a three-year old Deaf boy to change his name. The only name he has ever known. The only one he can see. The one that he knows represents him. His name sign reflects in his eyes, the same way that your name resounds in your ears. I can’t stop thinking about someone coming to our family and telling us we have to change my husband’s or children’s names. We would never do it and these parents shouldn’t either.
I know that the school has now come out and said that they never asked the boy to change his name sign but I can’t imagine that these parents would just make the story up. Something had to have been said, that gave this impression. And even if it is not this boy’s sign, it might be another child’s. There has to be a end to the over zealous zero policies in public schools today. Commonsense must prevail.
Whatever happens, I hope this story enhances peoples awareness of deafness, sign language and it’s beautiful culture. I know that I am lucky to be a part of it.