Signatures & Image

As an authorised person for the registration of marriages in my church, I am responsible for copying the entries in the marriage register and then sending them on to the registrar. At best, this is a tiresome business: I will already have written out entries in the two marriage registers as also written the wedding certificate. However, it is often a difficult business, because time and again the signatures of the witnesses can be difficult to decipher. Indeed, at a recent wedding all the signatures – both of the happy couple and of their two witnesses – were impossible to read. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter is the signatures of the bride and groom are illegible, because I will have already written out their names in the register; but if at the time of the wedding I can’t read the names of the witnesses, then in the margin of the registers I write out in pencil their names, so that when I later come to copy the names, I know what I am writing. And for my pains, I eventually receive the derisory sum of £2 per entry from the local Superintendent Registrar!

I do not understand why people sign their names in such a way that they cannot be read. Signatures by definition surely should be legible. True, an illiterate can make a ‘mark’ (often an ‘X’, but it may also be a personalized symbol), but then the document has to be countersigned by a literate witness. An illegible signature seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.

What irritates me is that often the illegible signature bears no relation to the writing style of the person concerned – to use the technical term, the signature is not ‘congruent’. Strangely the written document may be quite legible, in contrast to the illegible signature.

After yet again having to decipher the indecipherable, I thought I would consult a handwriting expert. According to one graphologist:

When the signature is incongruent with the text, then we have a person who is trying to project an image which differs from his true self… It does not automatically identify a dishonest person, but is one of the numerous traits of dishonesty…

The more the signature deviates from the text of the writing, the more the person is putting on a ‘false face’….

With the exception of those who have to sign so many documents, there is no reason to be so careless as to be completely illegible. Do you think a person who writes with a completely illegible signature is frank and sincere with other people? This is the person who is evasive with others. They are indirect and avoid people. They make themselves as unavailable as the illegibility of their signature describes.

Wow! These are pretty harsh words. At this point I think of a minister-friend who has an illegible signature. In no way is he ‘dishonest’ – and yet, I wonder whether subconsciously, he is actually putting on a ‘false face’. We should surely be ourselves – not least when we are putting our signature to a letter – and even more so, if we are putting our signature to an important document like a marriage certificate.

Perhaps not surprisingly the Bible has nothing to say on this subject. However, some words of Jesus do come to mind, which may have relevance: for in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’” (Matt 5.37). Although the context was very different, Jesus was speaking of the need to be transparent and straightforward. Or if that interpretation of his words does not convince, then what about his constant condemnation of the ‘hypocrisy’ of the Pharisees. If Jesus condemned people who pretended to be what they were not, would he therefore have also condemned on the same grounds people whose signatures are illegible? There is something to think about!

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