Deaf culture

Name signs for political figures

Personal name signs are one of some cultural features in Deaf culture. They are given by members of Deaf community. Naming ritual of name signs has its norms and rules. It's to some degree degree similar to Native Americans or First Nations' naming customs.

Most members of ASL/Deaf community have their unique name signs which are permanent. Sometimes, hearing outsiders, who are not members of Deaf community, can receive name signs, which may be sometimes permanent for some historical figures or sometimes temporary or disposable for other figures.

In naming practice, a name sign given to a hearing outsider may be associated with a person's characteristics or reputation. Sometimes, naming process is formal; sometimes, naming is informal or casual. Name signs whether as nicknames or official name signs for political figures such as U.S. Presidents can be interesting.

Presidents' name signs

As a reflection of Deaf culture, visual nature and sometimes brutal honesty (i.e. straightforward) can reveal in name signs for politicians. Politicians' name signs can be respectable or sometimes tacky, based on their scandals, reputation, and/or characteristics.

Two examples of name signs for U.S. Presidents are #JFK (simply given as a lexicalized sign) and President Obama whose formal name signs are official and permanent that they are used in formal settings in Deaf community. These name signs are respectful.

name sign for Obama
Name sign for Barack Obama inspired from the logo with "O", his initials O+B, and the wavy lines in the logo.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' name sign is one of the most carefully chosen and honorable name signs for high politician figures in American history. Inspired by the first POC and female Vice President of the U.S., the name sign was proudly created by Deaf POC female community and it was fully supported by Deaf community.

Other presidents in the U.S. and other countries often receive name signs and sometimes nicknames given by Deaf community in their nations. Name signs may be neutral or they may reflect the nature of scandal or a characteristics of the person.

Lost name signs

Politicians come and go during a short period of time. Many of their name signs become oblivious to new generations, except for a few ones that remain significant in history.

For example, I asked around a few Canadian native ASL speakers what name sign is for 1993-2003 Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien after about 15 years, even though I know his name sign but I wanted to double check. They neither didn't remember nor didn't know the sign. But, I do remember that my Deaf father had used it during the period of presidency. I asked him. He said that he didn't know but actually he forgot. I showed him the name sign yet he didn't recognize it nor knew the sign. His memory was completely wiped out.

Nevertheless, the name sign of Chretien is a quintessential example of naming practice for average politicians. So was the 1984-1993 Canadian Prime Minister Brain Mulroney who had the name sign -- upside down "M" tapping on the chin for his distinctive chin.


A Canadian politician and businessman Robert Bruce "Rob" Ford was an easy target for his reputation and scandal. He was a Toronto City Councillor and a former mayor of Toronto, Ontario from 2010 to 2014. His name sign was used in Ontario Deaf community as shown in the video below.

Name sign for Rob Ford, a politician in Ontario, recorded by Jolanta Lapiak with the signer Bijaya's permission.

How did the Deaf people in Ontario come up with this name sign for Rob Ford? His name sign comprised the initials of first and last name combined with the characteristics. Not only Bijaya of Ontario showed this name sign but also language play can sometimes go further. He had the other amusing version that went a bit too far that I decided not to include the video here.

Name sign given to Richard Nixon, former U.S. President.

President Nixon had his regular name sign which later was changed to a new name sign reflecting his Watergate scandal. Thus, the combination of handshape "N" and sign LIE was given to him. It remains the same since then.

Needless to say, 2017-2021 U.S. President Donald Trump has a few tasteless name signs. Although, he has a proper name sign used in formal settings.

In a nutshell

Name signs of politicians are interesting. You can find more name signs of some politicians in the ASL dictionary on this website.

Unfortunately, many name signs of the political figures have gone into oblivion after generations prior to the rise of Internet.

Related posts

Related posts: Name signs in Deaf culture

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