Amanda Everitt: It’s hard to choose the right sign name for your baby

Posted on June 23, 2017

I have a child who is growing up in France. But he’s as British as can be. His name is Jack.

Before Jack was born, we agonised over picking his name. We poured over volumes of naming books. The choice was overwhelming.

I turned my nose up at the Pierre’s and the Thierry’s. We wanted a name that worked both in France and in English speaking countries.

When Jack was born, I looked at him and thought, oh, he’s definitely a Jack. To hell with what his future boss thought. This little fella is going to have a boss that would not have a bar of that discriminatory rabble.

We had to register the name within three days of the birth. Three days! While I hadn’t even had my post birth shower, Jack’s father had to hi-tail it over to the Council (Mairie) office, otherwise we would face a complicated legal process.

With the name done and dusted, there was the matter of his sign name. I’ve noticed that there seems to be a recent trend for children to receive their sign name earlier and earlier in age.

When the baby is barely days old, adoring parents gaze at their enfant sleeping peacefully in the crib with one clenched fist placed firmly against chin and exclaim! “Oh that’s it! That’s the name sign!” They don’t bother waiting for the child’s personal preferences or characteristics to emerge.

Gone are the days of deaf children obtaining their sign name at school by rowdy class mates. There was the David who thought it funny to dish out the sign “buck tooth” or “fat fringe” and to have it stick.

I had a friend who had great trouble getting rid of his sign name “crush-jaw.” Despite desperate attempts to correct his Sign name as “smiley mouth” every time he met someone he would have his friends go “oh no, he’s “crush-jaw!”

And I’m glad to say gone are the days where deaf children were allocated a sign name that went by the number they were allocated at boarding school.

In the UK and in the States, it’s common for some to have their initial as name signs. “Alan Smith” goes by “AS” and an American “Stacey” is sometimes formed by making the handshape “S” and placing it on the chest near the shoulder.

Our continental French cousins have an uncanny ability to create beautiful poetic name signs that dazzle the eye. One particular example is the flicking one index finger in an arc to indicate long lushful eyelashes.

That’s the French for you.

Back to the UK, there are some name signs who have been passed on through the generations. Whole deaf families are allocated the same name sign in one fell swoop. For example, we talk about the Smith family by flicking a flat palm under our chin. This is a common way of identifying this family in the UK and this sign seems to have crossed the oceans and appears in New Zealand. Magic!

It is a tradition within the deaf community for a deaf adult to bestow a sign name on a deaf child. This great honour was revealed to me at age 11. Never had I felt so honoured to wear the name “worm.” Otherwise I’d have to receive a name that was associated by my hair (not a pretty sight at the time) or my body features.

These days sign language teachers feel under pressure to distribute name signs at rapid fire to wet-between-the-ears Sign Language students who have only just mastered the alphabet. “What do you like to do?” “Dance!” “Oh ok your name sign shall be “Dance!”

How original.

I believe that the process of giving a name sign is heavy with context and connotation. It takes time. For a good name sign it has to be easy to sign (preferably on one hand but not always). It has to feel right.

Nothing seems right for Jack. Not the  “sweat” sign we temporarily gave him when he sweated profusely while breastfeeding. When he started forming the handshape “seven” while spinning around in circles on the floor we worried that it would look too much like a gun. PC these days we are.

Meanwhile Jack has one top tooth coming through. He looks like a lopsided bunny. We are reluctant to have someone distribute “one tooth” through the deaf-vine in a flash.

We are still waiting.

Amanda is a New Zealander slash Briton currently living with our continental cousins, Les Français. Amanda is rising to the challenge of raising un bébé who likes to get into the nappy bin and trying to make moody french waiters smile.
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Twitter : @ammynz

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