A friend of mine today told me that he signed everything using a specific symbol (a star) that he draws instead of his name "for security". Is this a legal practice to do when signing for your credit card purchases, checks, etc.? Is it even worth doing for "security"?

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    like in cartoons when dumb characters mark down an "X" for their names? – MrChrister Dec 29 '10 at 20:46
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    Is your friend The Artist Once Again known as Prince? – MrChrister Dec 29 '10 at 20:47
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    @MrChrister Or The Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince :P – Matthew Read Dec 29 '10 at 21:06

Except in areas where there is a specific law against it, symbols or other marks may be used as a signature. There is no added "security", however. I would think in most cases a symbol is much easier to duplicate than a handwritten name.

In situations where the primary purpose of the signature is contractual, e.g. signing a will, marks are more likely to be allowed. You can't get out of a contract by claiming you didn't write your signature correctly. Where the primary purpose is verification of identity, such as signing your passport, your name is most often required.

  • Does anyone really verify a signature anymore anyway, though? – Ether Dec 29 '10 at 21:05
  • I had mine checked a couple weeks ago, actually. It was somewhat heartening. – Matthew Read Dec 29 '10 at 21:07
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    Working in a bank, I can promise that we verify signatures all the time. The exceptions would be when we know a customer well enough to call them by name as they walk in our door - otherwise, we take such precautions extremely seriously. – Benjamin Chambers Dec 29 '10 at 23:20
  • @Benjamin Chambers - what about those banks that allow deposits into the ATM or over the Internet? – MrChrister Dec 29 '10 at 23:39
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    @MrChrister Checks from ATMs don't disappear into space, they are checked as well. Same thing with the internet, they check the images for signatures and such -- probably even more carefully. – Matthew Read Dec 29 '10 at 23:42

Legally, in the US, any mark you make signifying intent is allowed to be your signature. One caveat: the recipient gets to decide if the mark is sufficient for their purposes.

I use a signature that is not my name most of the time, due to a prior identity theft. But many people are ignorant of the law (how many of us actually need to be that familiar with contract law??), and protest that they need an "actual" signature. After explaining the law, if my signature is not accepted, I am, by law, required to make whatever mark is requested of me (initials, full name written out, etc).

Occasionally, I also query what they would accept in the case of a person with severe arthritis, a person who had had a stroke, or for some other reason had lost motor function without losing cognitive function. What about writers with non-Latin names? What about doctors, whose signatures are notoriously impossible to read, to the point that a single character cannot be identified?

It would be needlessly burdensome to require every signature for every purpose to be a fully written name.


When doing a recent refinance on my house, the closing agents spoke of banks that would refuse paperwork if the signed name didn't match the printed name. If the printed name included a middle initial, they expected the signature to include the middle initial.

While not a proof of legal/illegal, you wouldn't be able to refinance with this bank using a star as your signature.

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