Why can't people just use their thumb and a sharpie?
June 9, 2009 10:32 PM   Subscribe

I dislike my signature and would like to completely change it. Would this lead to any problems down the road concerning credit cards/legal documents etc.? Does it even matter?

I was 10 or so when I started using my current sig, which is basically a ripoff of my dad's style but with my name. I first tried to change it around when I got my licence, but was advised against it and warned that I would be 'in trouble' if my signatures did not match all the others I had signed on identification up till then. Now, several years later my wallet contains at least 5 things at all times with my signature on it, and that doesn't cover things like my passport etc.

So if I were to just abruptly alter my signature radically tomorrow and just sign the new way on important documents as they get updated, would that cause problems? Do I even need to get all my documents updated with my new sig.? Or would a better approach be to stick with my current signature for legal documents and mess around elsewhere? Thanks in advance!
posted by shoebox to Law & Government (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this guy would probably say no, it doesn't matter.
posted by ComeUndone at 10:38 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know for sure, but my signature looks different every time I sign something. Sometimes drastically different, depending on my blood sugar or the surface I'm writing on or the width of the pen. I can't imagine it making that much of a difference.
posted by rubberkey at 10:40 PM on June 9, 2009

You might find this story helpful (and entertaining).
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:41 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I downgraded from discernible letters to weird loop-di-loops at age 27ish, and no one noticed/cared. In fact, the signature on my driver license (14 letters) was significantly different from my actual signature (maybe 4 letters?) for about 5 years, without complication.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:43 PM on June 9, 2009

For about a year I signed my credit card statements as all sorts of whacky things...celebrities, nouns, squiggles, imperatives (Dance!), etc. Then somebody told me that this wouldn't do me favors if my identity got stolen, and so I stopped. But, never once did it cause a problem. Nobody ever noticed or commented either. So go figure.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:44 PM on June 9, 2009

Don't 'change' your signature. Let it evolve.

Pull out a sheet of paper and sign your name - quickly - without giving it any thought. Then do it again. And again. Now do it again. And again. And again. And... you get the idea.

The trick to having a signature that is your own is to stop trying to do it 'right' and just let your hand do what it wants to do. Over time, your signature will evolve into something that is your own.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:50 PM on June 9, 2009

ComeUndone beats me to it! Preview is my friend. Well, there's also a Part II, wherein our faithful correspondent might finally meet his match....
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:52 PM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: As a more serious answer, I did just that. My reason was quite simple - my signature was simply my name in the same cursive handwriting I used in fourth grade. Since I've never used cursive handwriting since fourth grade, I thought it looked childish and not in-character. So, I simply started using a printed signature that I fancied up a bit to make it interesting. Since it was in roughly the same type of handwriting I used otherwise, I never had a problem transitioning to it.

I picked the time when I got a new driver's license to do it. Coincident to that, I requested new credit cards from their issuers to redo the signature strip on the back. Past that, I didn't bother. In fact, I never had an issue until several years later when a bank teller commented that my signature didn't match the signature on file at the bank. What interested me was that the teller neither did anything about it and that no teller previously indicated the mismatch. As a matter of practice, I made another signature card for the bank, but I'm not sure it was necessary. As for legal documents, I simply switched. I'm unaware of any legal requirement for you to keep your signature the same, so long as you are actually the one signing it.

As a practical matter, I've never had any issue with the transition and I think even the limited amount of work I did to prepare for it was more than I needed. I suspect I could have gotten away with merely having credit cards that have the signature on it, since noone seems to look at the signature on my driver's license.
posted by saeculorum at 11:22 PM on June 9, 2009

I went through a phase where I signed my credit card with a name related to the purchase, like Imelda Marcos for shoes, Julia Child for groceries, Janice Joplin for music, etc.

Nothing ever failed to go through, and there was never any issue with my charges.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:30 PM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: Try it and find out. The sooner you change your signature, the better.

I've probably changed mine about twice.

In a legal sense, the only time your signature becomes an issue is when somebody comes back and wants to verify that you actually signed a document. As long as you'll cop to your old signature being your actual signature, there shouldn't be a problem.

As much as we'd like to think that credit card companies and DMVs and banks have a registry of your signature, and that they double-check to ensure your identity isn't being stolen, that just isn't my experience.

I'd advise you change your signature anyways, if you've been using it since you were ten. If you put any credence into graphology, then it might be a good idea to change your signature; after all, your personality has probably changed a lot since you were ten. And if anybody notices and asks, just tell them that you sign your name differently now.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:32 AM on June 10, 2009

I've changed my signature several times (not always on purpose) and I currently maintain three different signatures: a sloppy scribble that I use for most things, a slightly more legible one I use for bank documents and driver's licenses and such, and a more ornate one that includes my full name that I use for things like wills and home ownership.

Never any trouble.
posted by mmoncur at 12:53 AM on June 10, 2009

I commonly sign my receipts with nonsense. Words, drawings, you name it. Never had an issue.
posted by reductiondesign at 1:01 AM on June 10, 2009

My mom had carpal tunnel surgery several years ago (both wrists at the same time), and during her recovery when she couldn't write, she had me sign all her checks for her and anything else that needed signing. If anyone ever noticed, they never said anything.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:02 AM on June 10, 2009

I will warn you that, should you ever travel in Europe and use your credit card, they will hold your card as you sign to see if the signatures match. Of course you could just revert back to your old signature in this case.
posted by Dukat at 2:26 AM on June 10, 2009

I changed my signature to only my first name a few years ago. I was occasionally asked to sign my old signature if it had to match records on file somewhere, but never had any problems.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 4:02 AM on June 10, 2009

I changed mine when I changed all three of my names (first, middle and last). I have encountered no legal issues. It evolves, anyway. (I can write mirror writing and upside down, but it never occurred to me to do that until just now. Fun!)

Almost no one notices, except under the most unusual circumstances.
posted by FauxScot at 4:42 AM on June 10, 2009

My signature was neat and legible at the age of 17 or 18 when I opened my checking account. Years later when my signature had devolved into "First initial-scribbly marks Last initial-scribby marks" I mailed the bank some forms. They checked the new signature against the signature I had providedly originally, determined they weren't sufficiently similar, and called to see if it was really me. They asked me your standard mother's maiden name-type questions, I explained that my handwriting sucked, they told me to stop by and provide a new signature for them to keep on file. They had never noticed it on checks I had written, but apparently certain types of transactions get a bit of extra scrutiny (I think I was switching from a basic student checking account to an interest bearing checking account). No big deal though.
posted by little e at 6:06 AM on June 10, 2009

As saeculorum suggests, you may have a (minor) problem at the bank. If you lose your bank card and you go to get a new one, you will have to sign for it; they will compare your signature to the one on file. If they don't match, you will have to jump through a few more hoops -- such as providing more pieces of picture ID -- before they will agree that you are who you say you are. Then they will take a new sample signature for your file.

Other than that, nobody ever looks at signatures. It's surprising they're ever needed nowadays.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:24 AM on June 10, 2009

I don't think it matters (unless you're using some sort of handwriting recognition software or something..?). Like rubberkey, my signature looks different almost every time. If a cashier bothers to compare it to the back of my credit card (and half the time they don't anyway), they don't seem to mind. Also, some people don't sign their cards and just write "See ID." As for other documents, I think most people's signatures evolve over time anyway, and something you signed years ago probably wouldn't look the same as something you sign today.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:26 AM on June 10, 2009

The only other place I can think of where it might really matter is on the voting rolls. In some places if your signature doesn't match 'close enough' in the eyes of whatever volunteer is sitting behind the book then you have to fill out an affidavit that you are who you say you are. Not sure how common this practice is but they made the guy in front of me last November do it.
posted by langeNU at 6:39 AM on June 10, 2009

The only trouble I've come across yet (a few times -- and only a few times -- people have noticed the difference but not made an issue) was at my bank. The teller simply asked me if I'd like to try signing again to more closely match my signature, and that sufficed. Then I filed a new signature card. You could also request new cards from the credit card companies and sign them again if you're concerned.
posted by emumimic at 7:39 AM on June 10, 2009

I sign literally a different squiggle every time I ever sign anything, because I want to make it clear to all parties that my signature means only that somebody made a mark on the paper, not that I made a mark on the paper. I have never had a problem.
posted by dmd at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2009

The electronic pad at Radio Shack refuses to believe that my signature is actually a signature and keeps prompting me to do it over. I stubbornly refuse to alter my minimalist "two squiggly lines" signature and the clerk has to override the machine. I find this amusing.

Otherwise, I've had no issues with my change to this conceptual signature that doesn't actually appear to contain any actual letters. Although my first name starts with "M" and the first squiggle has a vaguely M shaped wave form at the outset.

Any really important legal documents generally require a notary anyhow.
posted by Lame_username at 7:55 AM on June 10, 2009

As everyone upstream said, it won't be a problem.

Several years ago, I lost my wallet and checkbook and ended up having a problem with forgery. When it came time to replace everything, I decided to make my signature a little more difficult to forge.

The replacement signature is in katakana. Intentionally misspelled for added confusion.

I'm the whitest guy ever. Closest I ever came to Japan was the cherry blossom festival on Sutter Street.

It does double-duty; not only does it make it harder to forge, it's a very useful tool for determining whether or not the clerk is actually paying attention. No double-take or confused expression, no attention.

So long as it matches your ID, it will work, that's all they care about.
posted by geckoinpdx at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2009

My signature card at the bank I've used since my parents opened a bank account for me at age 9 still has that "little kid learning cursive" signature.

I spent my teenage life signing autographs a couple hundred times daily (not for anything cool), and my signature rapidly devolved into the letters "N" squiggle "k" squiggle "P" squiggle "ly".

My wife's signature is a perfect cursive representation of her name with middle initial.

No one cares either way.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:33 PM on June 10, 2009

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