October 31, 2020

The Story of My Name-Sign


I was fortunate enough to take the ASL (American Sign Language) year-long sequence of courses during my first stint in graduate school. It was there that I first learned about name-signs: ASL signs that represent someone's name.

One day, I did something I later found out was a serious faux pas: I asked for a name-sign. What's supposed to happen is that you are deemed worthy of being awarded a name-sign, like at the end of a school year term as a sort of reward. But silly me, I didn't know better. Drucilla, my teacher, said she would think about it and get back to me.

Maybe a week later, Drucilla and I were in the linguistics department's lounge when all of a sudden she interrupts me to tell me that she had a name sign for me. She explained that my last name was really long (twelve letters!) and had a lot of Z's (three of them!). A "Z" in the ASL manual alphabet is represented by using one's index finger to spell out a "Z" in mid-air, far longer and requiring more effort than any other letter in the ASL manual alphabet. So Drucilla combined both facts to present a name sign -- a "Z" with a tail at the end to represent that things are long.

The especially nice thing about my name-sign is that it can be drawn on paper or in a computer graphic. You can see a rendering of my name-sign at the top of this post, and also now as the favicon for this website.