Every time I learn new name signs —e.g. during my UCL visit hosted by @gab_hodge— I’m struck by how they call into question Searle’s (spoken English-based) arguments about how proper names work. Many sign names appear to be descriptive (or at least originate as descriptions)
Moreover, often one gets the ‘baptismal story’ along with learning the name sign, meaning the motivation is kept alive by users. There is some literature on this, e.g. Mindess 1990 has some interesting data on the connection of name signs to identies and descriptive features
And there are surveys like Meadow 1977 and Suppala 1990 that show important sociolinguistic differences in how names originate, how some of them are more arbitrary than others, and how these issues are wrapped up with matters of Deaf culture.
In general, I think the philosophy of proper names (and philosophy of language more generally) could benefit a lot from shedding its spoken language bias and learning from naming practices and name signs in sign languages — these literatures have barely touched each other.
This originated as a thread on twitter: