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What are the current attitudes surrounding sign names in online Deaf spaces?

Sign names are used in sign languages as a way of identifying someone in one smooth sign without having to finger-spell their name (Wilbur, 1979). Sign names are not a direct translation of the spoken name, instead the sign can be descriptive of a physical feature or mannerism of a person, or use an initial from their spoken name; however initialised sign names are not always considered a bona-fide sign name (Day and Sutton-Spence, 2010).
The online discussions around sign names show a wide variety of conflicting attitudes, from who can give sign names, to what counts as a sign name and what having a sign name can signify. Some of the conflicting views could be down to a mixing of Deaf cultures, for instance descriptive sign names are seen as ‘childish’ in ASL (Supalla, 1992) whereas they are the norm in many European sign languages. Previous research has touched on other similar areas, finding that although 45% of sign names have negative connotations, there was a push to use them to support Deaf pride and group identification (Meadow, 1977). However data on current attitudes is lacking, especially regarding online discourse regarding sign names as a ‘right of passage’ or an ‘honour’.
This paper examines current attitudes around sign names in online Deaf spaces, with a focus on sign names as a right of passage and the gatekeeping that this enforces. Twenty online posts from Reddit, public blogs and articles were analysed, using an altered form of Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six steps approach to thematic analysis. This was done by splitting the sample in half to analyse one half at a time to then compare initial themes before defining the final themes.
The analysis found three themes; sign names as a symbol of community, sign names as a form of communication, and self-defensive gatekeeping of sign names. Each theme was heavily interlinked, with name signs having important social implication in Deaf communities which resulted in a sense of ownership and therefore a desire for gatekeeping in order to protect culture. In contrast, this was the  view of sign names as a language tool, disregarding any cultural importance but placing communication above all else. This resulted in terms such as ‘unofficial name sign’ and ‘home sign’ being used to accommodate gatekeeping while prioritising communication.
The proposed themes allow for a better understanding of the interaction of attitudes around sign names. Although sample size, differences between Deaf cultures, and different sign languages should be kept in mind before generalising.

Day, L. Sutton-Spence, R. (2010), ‘British Sign Name Customs’ Sign Language Studies, Volume
11, Number 1, pp. 22-54 (Article) Published by Gallaudet University Press DOI: [ Acceded 19 Oct 2021] 
Meadow, K, (1977) ‘Name signs as identity symbols in the deaf community’, Sign Language Studies 16, 237-246.
Supalla, S.J, (1990) "The Arbitrary Name Sign System in American Sign Language." Sign Language Studies 67: 99-126. 
Braun. V & Clarke. V, (2006) ‘Using thematic analysis in psychology’, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3:2, 77-101 : 
Wilbur. R, (1979) ‘ American Sign Language & Sign Systems’. Baltimore.