I’ve been thinking a lot about signatures lately. All who are literate have one. It is one of the first things we learn to write. It is a defining and deeply personal mark. It is something that is uniquely ours.
We often practice and refine it as we grow and time passes. I remember writing mine over and over again on loose leaf paper in elementary school, wanting something more "adult" before passing on to the higher grades. My signature today remains a variation of that one. Yet, were one to compare the two they would see few similarities. The speed with which I dash it off today and a more confident hand have fundamentally changed it.
Signatures have power. Our laws are only desires until they bear the signature of those that execute them. Signatures have value. Our checks and charges are only valueless scraps of paper unless our signature is applied. Signatures have meaning. They are a promise. They change things. Yet, most of us dash ours off quickly, with little thought or recognition of such.
My little girl Beatrix has a wonderful signature. She’s only seven. Yet, without any prompting that I’m aware of, has developed a signature that is uniquely hers. It takes extra time to write but I find that part of its beauty.
It starts with the large B. She then continues from the B in a long slope to the a, skipping e entirely at first. She then continues through to the end trix with the spike of the t and the slope of the x. Then, she works her way back to cross the x, draw and fill in a heart over the i in place of a simple dot, crosses the t, and puts a loop at the top of the B. As a final step, she fills in the missing e as a loop extending from the B.
As I said, it’s rather complex for a seven year old and takes far more time than if she chose a far more average method. And, even she can’t answer the many how’s and why’s I have surrounding these unique quirks beyond, "I just like to do that." That said, her signature and its styling are unmistakably hers. And, in many ways, it is such flourishes that make a signature memorable and I would argue far more intentional and meaningful.
When thinking of great historical signatures many people in the United States first call to mind that of John Hancock, whose signature on the Declaration of Independence is so full of flurish that his name has largely become synonymous with the word "signature" itself. But it is this special combination of aesthetic and execution that elevate it from a mark to art. It also is clear that he, like my daughter, took his time. He understood the importance of what his signature on any document meant. And, this document was a bold and life changing statement. A commitment to put his life on the line for the intentions behind it. He was going to remember this one. He was going to take his time and make it beautiful. He made it matter.
Now, my daughter obviously has not put as much deep thought into her signature as I have provided for here. She simply wants to make her signature beautiful. Such beauty means that it takes more effort and time. There is tremendous value in that. I hope she one day understands and respects this as deeply as I have come to. That fifty years from now she is still dotting her i with a heart and going the extra mile to fill it in. That she understands that if she is going to sign something, anything, that it should matter.