Remember Button Gwinnett? Georgia businessman with a string of failures in his wake? Went into politics? Signed the Declaration of Independence? You don’t remember him? Neither does anyone else. But say the name John Hancock. Everyone nods their head. They’re envisioning that brilliant swoosh of a “J,” that neat knotlike flourish. It isn’t the placement or the size of Hancock’s autograph that makes it memorable. It’s the style. The boldness. It is so distinct, it is synonymous with signature.
Gwinnett, Gerry, Morton and most of the other 56 men who signed the Declaration matter as much as Hancock. But you don’t know them because Hancock ate up 7 percent of the folio and they had to cram their names into whatever space was left. Also, maybe they didn’t have Hancock’s swagger.
The Pen Is Swaggier Than a Word
Reach over to the legal pad next to you and sign your name. How memorable is it?
I recently changed my signature purely for the extra bump it might give me when selling books. Also, I use a byline, so signing books with my regular signature started feeling weird. When I tried writing my byline as a signature, I realized a signature is so much more than the letters it contains. It’s a self-portrait.
If you want to develop a distinctive mark, then consider these ideas.
Who Are You?
This is the question a signature asks. Not, “How do you spell your name?” Not, “Do you have a middle initial?” Your signature asks you to define yourself.
So, to forge a new mark, you have to think about your brand. Which sounds like bullshit of the highest order, I know. And I know you hate that. You hate self-aggrandizing and soapboxing. But that’s not what this is. Branding is a real thing and, if you take a minute to think about it, you’ll realize you’ve already got one. You’re likely one of five kinds of people at your firm. You’re an associate, you’re a handler, you’re a researcher, you’re a rainmaker, or you’re the hammer.
Rainmakers seem to have a mysterious superpower that brings in money with the flow of an avalanche. It’s a balance of confidence, charisma, data, experience and weird luck. And the mystical ability to remember the name of every person they’ve ever met ever. If you’re a rainmaker, your regular signature is already Hancockian. If it’s not, it should be.
Want to be a rainmaker? Then maybe, just maybe, if you adopt the signature of a rainmaker you might grow into it. Sounds crazy, right? Not so much. A 2010 study found adopting a “power pose” for as little as two minutes shifts one’s mindset toward the superheroic. From the abstract:
Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. But can these postures actually cause power? The results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple one-minute poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.
Penmanship Is a Kind of Posing
Turns out that same effect is present in other actions — like signing our names. A study by Eileen Chou of the Batten School of Leadership found that format matters. People using e-signatures did not seem to value them as much as those who actually signed paper. She also found this did not correlate when the users created their own PIN. When they used a number with personal meaning, they tended to value the transaction more.
When you sign your name, you are declaring and describing yourself. You create an indelible artifact that, even if you don’t think about it, matters to you. Think about how often you sign your John Hancock. Think about what it would be like if you spoke your own name aloud that often. Then consider what tone of voice would work best and why. Do you mumble your name? Do you state it flatly? Or do you shout it to the roofbeams? Imagine hearing yourself whisper-mumbling your name over and over. Wouldn’t you want to shift your performance toward the more operatic end of the spectrum? If only so people knew who you were?
Changing your signature is like that. Here are ideas.
Ways to Restyle Your Signature
First of all, you’re allowed to change your signature. But, you may have to inform your bank, the Department of Motor Vehicles, even the Passport Services Office when you do. Secondly, I’m not a lawyer and there may be frustrations lurking in your docusphere I have not addressed. You’re on your own there.
What Kind of Signature Do You Want?
Walt Disney, Kurt Vonnegut and Kanye West have small figures added to their signatures. If you have a nickname with a visual punch, here’s where you add it. For example, if you’re called The Hammer, then you turn the “T” into a gavel. If you make plaques, then you can draw a simple crest with a blank spot where you sign your name across it.
A Fistful of Flourishes
Combine your first initial and the first letter of your last name for a stunning ligature. It becomes a kind of logo from which the rest of your last name trails away.
Add some curly lines beneath this and you have a highly visual mark.
We make fun of a physician’s flourish but there’s a reason their handwriting sucks: They don’t care. They sign their name 500 times a day. At some point, they can’t bear to pick up a ballpoint, much less go through all 17 letters in their name. So they throw down a line of ink that has more in common with voodoo than their vocation. Some authors and celebrities do the same thing. J.K. Rowling’s signature is one example. Mel Gibson’s is an insane scrawl that looks like a map to the nearest medical facility. I am sad to report David Bowie’s signature is nothing like his music. It looks like he dropped his pen. If you sign your name a lot, maybe you should tweak your existing loopy mark into something a little more dramatic.
Retrain Your Fist
Once you’ve got an idea of what your new moniker should look like, try it out. Once you get it down to the scrawl you’re looking for, then you have to learn how to sign your name. Again.
I was a little embarrassed about this part and kept my practice sheet hidden. If my wife found it she’d send me to the Home for the Exquisitely Narcissistic. A signature should flow from the end of your pen with no thought. It isn’t a cognitive action, it’s a habitual one. Think about how you sign now — you’re not thinking about it. You’re doing it.
Here is a picture of my efforts at practicing my “author” signature which I use to sign books. Notice how the signature evolves from OK to cool (I think, I mean, I hope, I mean, please stop laughing). As you get used to drawing your signature, it will develop its own style. You might add flourishes and illos you hadn’t originally considered. It’ll grow into itself.
Is Changing Your Signature Just Egotistical BS?
Absolutely not. It is a bold move to develop your professional image. In a competitive business, standing out matters. Also, the rules of advertising and marketing apply: Repetition sells. You sign your name a lot. Why not make it part of your plan?
I did that and it worked wonders. When I sign books, more than half the people in line make a comment about it. It might be a grunt of approval or an audible rolling of their eyes, but they remember it. Is it egotistical bullshit? Who cares. It works. Look at this thing:
I talk more about signatures and their importance on this Erasable podcast episode.
Ultimately, a great signature is like a great logo. It’s instantly recognizable. It communicates purpose. It helps define you.