Does my signature have to match my legal name?
January 26, 2004 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Does my signature have to match my legal name? The reason I ask is because I go by my middle name, not my first. My wife insists that I sign "legal" things like car loans and tax returns with my full name, while I maintain that my typical signature is fine (and grudgingly sign her way). Which one is it?
posted by O9scar to Law & Government (22 answers total)
Stuff like checks, etc, I sign as "Bill", but important legal documents (car loans, tax returns, etc) I sign as "William" with my full name.
posted by mrbill at 9:31 AM on January 26, 2004

No. At least not in the UK. (I sign my name Sean; my real name is William). Plus, your signature can be a cross, so that would seem to support my position.
posted by seanyboy at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2004

short answer (in america): no.

your signature does not have to match what's on your birth certificate. you can adopt anything as your legal signature--it doesn't even have to include your name (you know, the whole just marking an X to indicate a signature).
posted by crush-onastick at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2004

Not to my knowledge. My signature is an indecipherable scribble and has been for 20 years. I have four names, the squiggle is one line and looks like none of them.

on preview, what crush-onastick said.
posted by dobbs at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2004

I feel like the concept of legal signatures in most, though not all, cases is one of those quaint things that used to be true about the world of contracts and banking but is not true now. Sort of like post-dated checks, or making a mistake on a check and fixing it but putting your initials next to the repair. When checks were processed by hand, a human might catch this. Now they are processed by machine and no one pays attention to it unless you contest your siganture/consent at a later date.

My understanding is that a legal signature is basically a mark made by you which signifies your intent to agree with whatever the item is that you are signing. In my case, I have a "legal signature" that is a bunch of up and down scribbles, but it's the same every time and I have never had a problem with it, including when I bought my house, my car, got a new bank account, etc. In fact, if I sign my full name on things, it doesn't match the "signature" and occasionally there's a small problem. In general, if you have other forms of ID that signify that you are you, it's rarely a proble, but it seems like maybe you are looking for a "letter of the law" argument for your wife and not a "it will probably be fine" data point from me.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2004

I sign most things with the short version, and save the long version for taxes and so forth.

A word of warning about making your signature too generic: less distinctive signatures are easier to forge.
posted by whatnot at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2004

Normally I'd say "no," but I had to add my initial to my signature on my mortgage contracts. I just signed it and added a little F between the two halfs.
posted by me3dia at 9:53 AM on January 26, 2004

Same thing happened to me me3dia, but with an FBI background check they were doing on me for work. The feds insisted that I insert my middle initial into my signature, even though my first name and last name are completely illegible. I assured them that if I was asked in the future whether or not this was my signature I'd be forced to say "no." They said they didn't care.
posted by soplerfo at 10:40 AM on January 26, 2004

Your legal signature is whatever you normally sign. It doesn't have to match your name. I mean, I could decide to sign my name in a non-Latin character set, but as long as I normally did it, it would still be my legal signature.
posted by oaf at 11:37 AM on January 26, 2004

My legal signature uses my full name but is only valid when written using burnt sienna crayon and a drop of my blood. I wanted to use sperm but the lady at the bank started screaming.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:45 AM on January 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with the "sign what you want" sentiment above, however if your signature is too different then you may get questioned about it on important stuff. But the chances are pretty small.
posted by twine42 at 12:33 PM on January 26, 2004

On a side note for signatures, technically if you don't sign the abck of a Credit Card with your name (ie, just "Check ID"), the CC doesn't have to pay anything if your card gets lost and abused.
posted by jmd82 at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2004


businesses can refuse to accept credit cards which are not signed with a signature. in fact, the USPS has a policy under which it will not allow use of a credit card that is unsigned, even though marked "check ID" and presented with a correct ID. (it's the only place in the US i've ever had my credit card refused on this basis--though my sister and I both ran into trouble in London over this at several places).

FWIW, i'm not sure (and i don't know any reason my opinion should carry any particular weight on this issue) putting "check ID" instead of a signature changes liabilities when a credit card is lost or stolen. liabilities are currently pretty low, even with a debit card, when the owner of the account is prompt and diligent in reporting unauthorized use.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:57 PM on January 26, 2004

What's the point of writing "Check ID" on a credit card? Why not just sign it?
posted by blue mustard at 3:30 PM on January 26, 2004

The point is that the cashier asks for id and if you can't come up with ID that says that you're Johann Gambolputty, like it says on the front of the card, you get no sale, you filthy little thief. We hates little thiefses, we do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:58 PM on January 26, 2004

Using chops could be cool.
posted by jaronson at 4:33 PM on January 26, 2004

Actually, I've always understood that credit card companies would rather the stores did not check people's ID. The rationale being that it bothers the cardholder, and that even if it is someone misusing the card, they'd prefer to work the matter out after the fact than to hassle a cardholder. Some stores ask for ID, but I believe it's an individual store policy rather than a law or a credit card company mandate. If you can't produce ID, but can match the signature/pin number, I think you're entitled to use the card. I could be wrong, but I remember watching a friend of mine get in a big brouhaha with a Walmart clerk over this issue, and he later pointed out some literature which, to my surprise, indicated that he was right and the clerk was wrong.
posted by Hildago at 6:27 PM on January 26, 2004

Yes, you can sign anything, even an "X." This is so that illiterates can be held legally bound, too.

I seem to remember someone from Business 2.0 writing a great article about going around to various stores and signing his name as "This card is stolen" after using a credit card. He also tried testing whether having CHECK ID on the back of the card actually motivates the clerk to do so. Big surprise, the clerks never questioned his signature, and never checked his ID.

I've been asked for my ID many times when attempting to use a credit card. And even though my credit card and ID have different names (due to a similar first/middle name situation) NO ONE EVER BLINKS except this one guy, one time in some super-ghetto liquor store but he's the only one!
posted by scarabic at 6:42 PM on January 26, 2004

your signature does not have to match what's on your birth certificate

Thank God! I'd hate to have to remove my socks and shoes and carry around an ink pad with me everywhere I went.
posted by Feisty at 10:35 PM on January 26, 2004

Once worked for a guy whose "signature" was basically his initials all jammed on top of each other. Nobody ever gave him a problem about it.

As for being asked for ID, the card I use most is actually a photo ID in its own right; it's a Bank of America debit card with my photo and signature on the front. (It doesn't merely have a place to sign on the front; they take your signature when you open the account and print it on the card along with your photo. So someone can't just swipe the card from the mail and sign it.) I highly recommend BofA cards; they have a zero liability for fraud precisely because of the photo and embedded signature.
posted by kindall at 11:12 PM on January 26, 2004

In general, your signature does not have to be your full name for legal purposes (contracts, etc.) General contract law - which for signatures is called "The Statute of Frauds"(yes honestly) - stipulates that a "signature" merely means any authentication which identifies the party to be charged. Even a letterhead or an "X" or nowadays am electronic signature (in some cases) will do, provided it is placed on the writing with the intent to authenticate it and it is the mark you usually sign - without an attempt to defraud.
I also go by my middle name. For very "official" documents I will usually sign my first initial, middle name, and surname. I actually abrieviate my middle name (Charles) as "Chas" with a period. It's illegible in any case. Some Federal guidelines want your signature to contain your "full legal name", but these are more regulations, really, than laws.
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:32 AM on January 27, 2004

scarabic, I think this is the article you're referring to, or at least it's an amusing one that covers a similar topic.
posted by jessamyn at 4:41 AM on January 27, 2004

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