Signatures used to be very important. When I was a secretary, letters would sit on my boss’s desk waiting for his signature. They could not go out of the office without it. The signature meant the document was official, approved, vouched for.
Companies with a wide range of products would identify their highest quality goods as their signature brand; the brand of which they were the most proud. This was the one you could trust. It didn’t matter if it was strawberry jam or safety harnesses; the signature brand was the best and most expensive.
Signatures have also been significant as evidence of top-level treaties between countries. So much so, that sometimes the pens used to write them have been prized gifts given to trustworthy aides by grateful presidents.
As a teenager, I practised my signature. I wanted it to be special. I had abandoned the cursive style of writing that was the standard in my primary school and had taught myself italics, so I wanted my signature to be in that style, too. It seemed to me that the round cursive style was childlike, and I so badly wanted to be grown up.
A few weeks ago, it was pointed out to me that I could use an “X” as my signature and it would still be legal. That took the wind out of my sails. Although that is true, it is still a bit disappointing. The conversation had arisen because I had used Docusign as a part of my real estate dealings. Docusign is electronic software that allows you to select a signature from among a number of choices and use it as your legal electronic signature.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you saying. “How can that be unique?” Well, those were my thoughts, too.
It’s a wonderfully efficient method for speedily acquiring signatures from people in diverse locations. At first, I was quite intrigued by the idea, and I scanned down the list to try to find one that looked vaguely like my own. Since none of them used my first two initials as I do when I sign things, none of them was perfect. So, in the end I just picked the first one on the list which, ironically, was in a cursive style.
It seems to me, though, that anyone could pick any of the choices using my name and it would still be legal. So, why bother with the signature at all? Obviously it has become redundant. It turns out that in a real estate deal the only signature that really matters, and the only one that has to be an actual written signature, is the final one. All of the interim negotiation signatures can be electronic.
But, if my legal signature could be an “X,” maybe I don’t need to be in the room at all, even for the final document. Unless, of course, there is something unique about the way in which I write the “X.” I’m going to have to practise that.