Monday, March 24, 2008

Do You Know My Name?

I have been called by many names. My real and legalized name is Rebecca and it is the name I have used most of my adult life since entering college. While growing up I was not overly thrilled with my birthname and had people call me by the nickname Becky.

During art class in junior high I had a teacher who liked my name Rebecca and told me I would probably change my feelings about my birthname as I grew older. I recall him telling me about famous women who go by the name Rebecca and not Becky.

Throughout my life leading to deafness I have had a number of hearing nicknames given to me: Becky, Beck, the Beckster, Beckaroo, Beccaboo, and some preferred to call me Becca, the shortened version of Rebecca.

In the deaf culture there are no Mrs.s, Mr.s, or Ms.s. Although in a hearing classroom I was known as the teacher "Mrs. Dufek", in a deaf classroom I would only be known by my first name and then a special "name" sign instead of spelling out my whole name. These name signs are given by other deaf members or deaf students.

Because at first I found fingerspelling "Becky" more challenging than spelling "Rebecca" even though it is longer, I have always been known as "Rebecca" in the ASL and deaf world. My name sign was given to me by a deaf friend, one of my former ASL teachers who is among the first deaf people I met in the state of Washington. We met when she was sent to my house for the state telecommunications distribution program providing special phones (a TTY or VCO phone) to people with hearing loss. Back then I did not know any sign language and years later we reconnected at the Hearing, Speech, and Deafness Center in Seattle where I tooki a refresher ASL class with my husband and our friends KC and Dianne.

At the time, I had a very severe/profound hearing loss which classified me as deaf but I did not realize it yet. I had held off taking ASL classes due to the demands of graduate school and student teaching which had me going to various schools in the Seattle and Eastside area with no extra time to take sign language courses offered outside of the University. Thus, when I picked it up again 3 years later, my hearing had dwindled to zero percent speech discrimination and for all intent purposes I was clinically deaf but trying desperately to function in a hearing world.

In April 2004 after graduation, I picked up where I left off in 2001 with sign language by taking a refresher class before continuing on with college accredited ASL classes. (Yes, I took "lip reading" which is more correctly known as "speech reading" at the same time interestingly but that is another story unrelated to this one. Most people wonder and most people ask if I read lips and that is why I mention it. NO! I DO NOT READ LIPS IN THE WAY YOU WOULD ASSUME SOMEONE CAN.) So back to my story........I took up learning sign language again 3 months before becoming completely deaf. Within taking that class and becoming aware of my deafness, is when I acknowledged myself as a member of the deaf community...more precisely known as a late deafened adult for me.

Karen, my teacher, had assigned me my name sign. Generally in the deaf community one fingerspells out his/her name upon first meeting people and thereafter the person is known by his/her "name sign" which is much shorter and faster to sign. Because of my long wavy hair, Karen selected the letter "R" for "Rebecca" squiggling down from the top of my head alongside my face.

At first I was not too sure about the selection wondering how it would fit me if I had lost my hair due to treatment for my brain tumors. Then again, the choice could not be more perfect to define me and describe the trials I have been through. Without fully knowing what my hair has meant to me, Karen selected a name sign more significant than she realized.

I have only had short hair twice in my life: once was in high school when my mom took me to the beauty school for a haircut and perm where the beautician became overly scissor happy mutilating my long precious locks into a short sort of afro, and the other is following chemotherapy. Even though I was able to keep most of my long beautiful hair due to freezing the hair follicles, the hair became brittle and split from the drugs and later needed to be cut off to encourage healthy new growth.

I had been having my poker straight hair permed since about age 11 but after the chemo my hair took on a new wave. I remember getting a perm before my wedding in 2000 but otherwise I have no memories of getting perms since the cancer. Thus, my hair seemed to evolve just as my mind and body has over the years. My name sign is a reminder of my perseverence and the changes I have gone through to become a better person.

Most people who are close to me and know me also know my name sign as they understand this important change I have endured in my life. Or they are new friends who have taken an interest in getting to know the late deafened person I now am. It has been nearly 4 years since I have been given a name sign. Harley, Katie, Jake, my sister, my brother, and sister-in-law have name signs also.

Do you know my name?

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