Monday, 13 October 2014

What's in a Name?! Quite A Lot, Actually!

Names Names
In addition to first, middle, last and pet names (Bertram Omar Gayle and Owen), I have had many other names. Most of these names are based on my first name and on my pet names (e.g., B, Bert, Bertie, Bertie-Bert, Berch, Berchie, Oyen, Owi, Ow); the rest are nicknames (e.g. Betty, Egg-An-Bread, Blacks, Blackie, Deacon). Some are meant to poke fun at my perceived sexuality (e.g. Uman Man, Bman, BertRAM, GAYle); some describe my complexion or the size of my cheeks (eg. Blakie, Blacks, Blacka, Pum-Pum Jaw); some as signs of informality and or familiarity (e.g., Bertie, Berch, Owen); some are mispronunciations by Africans (e.g. Beh-cham, Beer-cham) or by Jamaicans (eg. BerTHram, Birth-Ram, Bercham).

And More Names
There are newer names too. Since I started to grow locks, I have been called by all almost every name known to Rastafarians, expect "Bobo" - Dred, Ras, Fire, and so on. Thanks to Facebook (FB), many people now know me by my FB name, Black Raven. Since becoming involved in the Deaf community, I've had two name signs.

Sign Language Names
In the Deaf world, sign names are signs the Deaf use identify someone. No! It has nothing to do with Deaf people forging your signature. It's simply the way someone same is "said" in sign language. Many things can be said about name signing in Deaf cultures. I'll not get into all of that. For now, I will say two things. First, only a Deaf person can give you a sign name. Second, a common sign naming practice involves using one of your hands to form the first letter(s) of someone's English name(s) and placing that letter-shaped hand somewhere on the body. Sometimes, where the hand is placed on the body and how the letter-shaped hand moves (if it moves) tells us something about the person who is named.  
So, for me, my first sign name was the letter B, placed on the forehead and moved along the top of the head, following the natural curve of the head, to the back of the head. Why? When I was given this name sign, I had a Mohawk! I now have locks, so my name has changed. My new name still begins with the B-hand. This time, however, the B-hand is placed at the side of the head, just above the ears, and it moves down just above the shoulders. Hint: flowing hair!    
Deaf people also use sign names that are 100% descriptive. That is, they have nothing to do with the letters of the alphabet, they only tell you something about someone - how s/he looks, how s/he walks, what s/he does and so on. (This sorta reminds me of the nicknaming practice in the community in which I grew up in Westmoreland. Imagine there are three people, one with a big nose, another with a large forehead and another with one leg, they'd be called "nose," "farid" and "one foot" respectively. Let's get back to sign naming. In another post, I'll talk about the similarities I've noticed between nicknaming and sign naming in JA.) 

Sign Language Names in St. Elizabeth
For my research, I am studying a language called Country Sign Language (CSL). CSL originated in the southern part of our "bread basket" parish, St. Elizabeth. I visited the Deaf community in St. Elizabeth for the second time two weekends ago. When I was there noticed that
  1. the older members of the community have two name signs - one in CSL and the in Jamaican Sign Language (JSL) 
  2. name signs in CS are 100% descriptive
  3. when you ask a Country Signer her/his name sign, s/he is most likely to give you her/his JSL sign name
  4. the name signs in JSL *appear to involve only a hand forming a letter of the alphabet and placed somewhere on the body
When did Country Signers begin moving away from the more descriptive type of name signing?  When did they begin using the hand-alphabet type of sign names? Well, an alphabet is important to education. My guess is that the new practice started with the introduction of Deaf education and with exposure to other sign languages in which the hand-alphabet is important - JSL, American Sign Language [and British Sign Language (?)].   
And why do Country Signers prefer to give outsiders their JSL name signs? Are they simply being nice by using the Sign Language with which outsiders are more familiar?  Is the preference reflective of what's happening in the community - the slow death of CS and the prestige of JSL? 

No comments :