Parents tend to give their children names in their own languages. What could be more natural? When Tomato Lichy and Paula Garfield, a British couple who are both Deaf (the capital “D” indicates that Deaf is a cultural identity), were about to have their second child, they began to look into whether it was possible to give their baby, legally, a sign name.
A sign name is not just an English name spelled out with the fingers. While Deaf people do have English names, which can be written, spelled out, or mouthed, they use signs, created specially for individuals, to refer to each other within their own community.
Lichy and Garfield gave their baby the English name Hazel, and consulted a linguist about how they might write out, in notation form, Hazel’s sign name, which is formed by a change from a closed to open index and thumb handshape near the chin. When they went to the Registry Office and asked to register the baby’s BSL (British Sign Language) name, they were told they couldn’t. They left without registering the birth, and looked for legal advice.
With the help of a motivated lawyer, they built a case, and the government eventually agreed that they did have the right to give their child a BSL name. The name, written in sign notation as UbOtDDstarL, is listed on her birth certificate.
See what the sign name looks like and watch the family tell the story in their own words in this video from BSL Zone. At the end of the video, linguist Bencie Woll explains how the notation works.