In the deaf world, to avoid the tedious task of having to finger spell out a person’s name every time you refer to them, a “sign name” is assigned to the individual, which usually depicts a prominent physical characteristic which is often on the person’s face. I mean, with long names, like Hadassah, I certainly would get finger-tangled if I had to finger spell her name ever time that I wanted to mention her.
The girls were assigned names which point out prominent freckles on their faces, followed by the alphabetical letters that their names start with. It took no time before they recognized their new names, and Hadassah does the “2 dot – H” signing with such confidence and really flicks out the “H”. If you have a physical feature that is prominent, whether it be a mole, a big nose, acne scars or a double chin, be sure that your sign name will probably highlight that. For a hearing person, this is incredibly intimidating, as for example, if you have ears that stick out, no one ever mentions it, as most of us feel self-conscious about those features that make us most different from one another. We like to blend in with everyone else and tick all the boxes of what society deems attractive, so to be called “scar on my forehead – G” for example, is not something that a hearing person would feel comfortable with.
I’d been around the school for the deaf for a while, and was always just referred to as “mother 2 dot-H” or “mother 1 dot- T”. I was comfortable with that, besides, their little freckles are too sweet! I knew the time would come, however, for me to be “named”. I was dreading it! I was invited to join a sign language class at the school, which I eagerly accepted, but knew that this was probably going to mean receiving a sign name. I stared into the mirror for a good few minutes that morning…freckles? Skew nose? Chubby red cheeks? PLEASE, No!
My first sign language lesson started with everyone in the class having to introduce themselves to me using their sign names – gulp! And then I was asked whether I had a sign name. After admitting that in fact I did not, I had to endure at least 6 pairs of eyes staring holes into me as they scouted my face over and over for the right feature. This. Was. PAINFUL! Eventually our teacher decided that she’d give it some thought. I managed to escape the physical feature and received a name that highlighted the fact that I am a mother and a doctor and that my name starts with a “B”. So it kind of looks like the sign for mother (or doctor) with the hand shape of the alphabetical letter “B”. What a relief!
What I have to admit, is that I really admire and appreciate this aspect of deaf culture. We’re different and that’s what makes us identifiable and beautifully unique, get over the awkwardness of having the feature that everyone sees everyday anyway, pointed out, and enjoy being embraced “warts and all”. Isn’t this expression of beauty, lovely? “There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection.” If I want my girls to embrace their “perfect imperfections”, I guess that I’m going to have to lead by example.