What your signature says about you

Don't think it matters what your signature looks like? Don't be so sure. It relays a lot about you.

Redefining John Hancock Originally published in the Apr/May 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine

Have you ever considered how you sign your name? If you’re like a lot of people, your signature is an illegible scrawl that you scratch out in a hurry when you finish a letter, fill out a document or write a check. You’ve written your name so many times in your life — hundreds, at least, probably thousands — that it’s just a routine process.

Does it really matter what it looks like?

Maybe. Maybe not. But there are people who believe signatures communicate a great deal about you, either positive or negative. And, you have to admit, your name is just about the most personal thing you can ever put down on paper.

“I consider your signature a little bit like stagecraft,” said Susan Wirth, a nationally recognized pen expert who specializes in matching clients with the right pen. “In other words, it’s an opportunity to convey anything you want.”

So, if you’d like to start making a statement with your signature, there are three things you need to consider: the ink, the pen and the style with which you write.

For your signature to make any sort of statement, it needs to be written in a way that other people can actually read it.

Greg Fox at the DonorPower Blog wrote a piece examining the signatures on the fundraising letters he receives from various organizations. He did not have kind words for those who signed their letters illegibly, writing that potential donors might actually be turned off by that kind of sloppiness.

“Signatures like these say, ‘I’m an Important Person. I’m Too Busy to sign my name so you can read it,’ ” he wrote. “That creates distance between the signer and the donor — and distance is the last thing you want.”

He’s got a point. A scrawled signature does have a certain impatience about it that some recipients, either business or personal, could take for arrogance or indifference toward them.

If you’re a person who scrawls, you’ll have to practice to improve the legibility of your signature (and maybe improve your handwriting in general). You’ll also have to remember to slow down when you sign your name, at least until you get used to doing it neatly.

Obviously, your signature should be in cursive, following the basic styles you learned in school, but you also can give it certain flourishes to add your own personality. You can loop the tail of the last letter back to underline your name, or make the first letters of your first and last name bigger than all the other letters, whatever you want. Just don’t go overboard.

Self-described handwriting analyst Elaine Ness writes on her website that, “A highly embellished signature, especially if larger than the body of writing, can indicate underlying feelings of inadequacy. Showy writing reveals a need to be noticed … As you might guess, it is common to see public figures sign their names just that way.”

Ness and others in the handwriting field also caution that signatures written in an undersized, left-leaning hand might subconsciously communicate to readers that you lack confidence.

“That can suggest you are almost painfully inhibited,” Wirth said.

Your best bet is to find one stylish, neat signature that feels comfortable to your hand and stick with it.

“It’s your territory,” Wirth said. “You want it to be authoritative and dramatic, but legible.”