Skip to main content

Dutch Sign Language is written with capital letters for a reason; it is a real language with its own vocabulary, grammar, and sayings. The use of the hands, face, and eyes is central. What many hearing people do not know, however, is that deaf people have separate gestures for their names: the name gesture.

Profielfoto van Claire

Claire Meijer

Claire is an independent entrepreneur and uses her company to support people with hearing disabilities in the labour market. She herself is deaf and lives with her husband and her son in Helmond in the Netherlands.

How do you say your name in sign language? Of course, you can spell a name by showing gestures from the sign language alphabet in the right order. But it is quicker to use an easy, recognisable and short gesture: a name gesture. This makes it easier for people to remember you. You can also use a lot of humour and creativity in it.

How are names invented in sign language?

Name gestures are sometimes created by using the first letter of the name. However, it is often derived from a character trait, hobby, external feature or profession, or from the meaning of the name.

There are great examples of how a name gesture comes about: the gesture for ‘curl’ for someone with curly hair, the gesture of a flower for someone called Rose, or pointing to the cheeks for someone with dimples.

Also for hearing people

Because a name gesture is very personal, it is devised by the person themselves or in consultation with them. A name gesture for a hearing family member or hearing friend or colleague is also often suggested by a deaf person. This gesture too is often related to their character, a characteristic or the meaning of the name. The deaf can really appreciate it when a name gesture is thought up and proposed that suits them.

The name gesture for Queen Máxima is to touch your two fingers and thumb to the side of your eye and move your hand ‘blinking’, as if your eye is blinking. This name gesture originated in 2002, when she was touring the country with her husband Willem-Alexander. Because of all the flashing cameras, Maxima blinked her eyes a lot. Voilá, the basis for her name gesture!

The name gesture for former U.S. President Trump is depicted by depicting his blond ‘hair’ being blown away: flatten your hand, put it on top of your head and tilt one side of your head as if your hair is being blown to the side. Funny, isn’t it?

Name gestures for organisations and companies

It is not only people who have name gestures. Organisations and companies do too. An example is Lidl, whose name gesture is based on its logo: because the name Lidl is in a circle, you make two hand shapes of an L and an O and bring the hand shape O to the inside of the hand shape of an L.

Of course, deaf organisations also have a name sign. For the name ‘Dovenschap’, make the gesture for ‘deaf’ twice and then the gesture for the word ‘community’.

Especially for the Accessibility Desk, I made up a name gesture. Look at the video below. This video is also available with Dutch audio description on YouTube.

My personal name gesture

My name gesture originated at the primary school for the deaf, when I was already a chatterbox. You make the gesture therefore, by making the letter ‘c’ with your hand, and then pretending that the hand is talking a lot (moving your fingers and thumb towards each other).

My son Florian

The name gesture for my son Florian has special characteristics and meaning. The name Florian is based on the Latin word ‘Florens’, which means ‘flourishing’. The movement in his name gesture is therefore the gesture for ‘flourishing’: it starts with a fist, which you open slowly to the gesture letter ‘F’ (thumb and index finger crossed and the other fingers spread).

It is pleasant and personal for everyone to use name gestures within the deaf community but also for hearing people who have to deal with deaf persons, such as at work and among family and friends. I see a name gesture as an important communication tool for the deaf community but certainly also as a personal attribute, with which you can convey more than just your name.