The meaning of a signature has stayed the same over the years, but it has taken on many forms. Today, we may primarily think of a signature as a way to close an email. When you look back throughout history. A signature has meant so many different things.

Digital signatures these days have become the norm for a lot of different scenarios, such as signing a contract. It’s become relatively commonplace to add your digital signature to documents, however, it wasn’t always such a simple affair.

The signature has gone through several transformations in its long history. Before arriving where we are today with electronic and digital versions. However, the signature’s meaning and purpose have largely remained. The same throughout the years: it’s a personal depiction of someone’s name that proves identity and is often affixed to documents to represent certification.


In order to understand and appreciate the signature as we know it, we should learn about its origins. Read on to discover the signature’s history throughout different eras until its modern adaptations today.

A Brief Timeline of The Signature’s History

Different time periods saw different versions of a signature. Its medium has changed over time, taking on different forms and contexts. 

The only constant is that man has been using a signature. In one form or another, for over a thousand years to denote a personal identification, confirmation, or witness.

Let’s take a brief look at the signature’s history and its evolution over time.

3000 BC: The Earliest Known Signature

Some of the first identifiable signatures date all the way back to 3000 BC. In ancient societies such as the Egyptians and Sumerians. These societies began etching pictographs, such as hieroglyphics, consisting of images that convey an event, story, or historical moment. 

A Sumerian tablet dating back to 3100 BC is thought to be the earliest example of a signature. This clay tablet has markings of a scribe, Gar Ama, and is considered an ancient example. Someone using a combination of words and symbols to indicate their identity.

1200 BC – 1069 AD: Ancient Greeks and The Alphabet

Many things happened with the way language was conveyed and written over this long period of time. The ancient Greeks and Romans placed a great deal of importance on language. 

Around 1200 BC, the Greeks began using the Phoenician alphabet. Over the next few centuries. It evolved into the more modern Latin alphabet that we use today. 

cave and water

It wasn’t until 1069 that we get the first documented use of a signature using the Latin alphabet from a well-known historical figure. El Cid, a Medieval military leader from Spain, left a signature of his name in a document demonstrating a donation he made to the Cathedral of Valencia. El Cid’s signature would become closer to what we know today as the modern.

13th Century: The Rise of Wax Seals

Though not a classic signature involving a name scribbled on a document, wax seals served a similar purpose as signatures.

The wax seal became more popularized in the Middle Ages. It was typically used by nobility or clergy members, such as monarchs, royal representatives, and bishops. A wax seal often provided a level of authentication to a document, such as a contract or an official letter.

Like signatures, each seal was completely unique to its owner. Though the Latin alphabet was already invented, a lot of people remained illiterate. As the wax seal gained more popularity and began to be more frequently used. Among common people, it was a good alternative for those who didn’t know how to read or write.

One of the most famous documents signed with a wax seal is the Magna Carta. In 1215, the King of England stamped the document with his seal. The Magna Carta went on to be one of England’s most important documents.

1677 and 1776: The Modern Signature is Born

In 1677, the English Parliament passed The Statute of Frauds Act, which allowed signatures to become what they are today.

The act was instated to curb the rise of fraud. The law stated that contracts need to be signed and that a signature implied a binding contract.

John Hancock’s famous signature on the American Declaration. Independence in 1776 would go on to become one of the most recognizable signatures in history. More importantly, his signature denotes a binding contract.

The 1980s – 2000s: The Signature Gets an Update

Like everything else that got updated with the rise of technology, the signature was no exception.

In the 1980s when fax machines became more commonly used in business and daily life, contracts were often scanned electronically. Therefore, laws had to be changed in many countries in order to adapt to this new technology. In order to ensure the legality and authenticity of these electronically sent documents.

Indeed, the saw a huge shift with more advanced technologies, such as digital and electronic signatures.

Wet, Digital, and Electronic Signatures

Today, it’s not out of the ordinary to sign contracts digitally with the use of signature software. However, it took some time before this became a regularly accepted practice.

First things first, it’s important to know that there’s a difference between an electronic signature and a digital signature.

Electronic Signature

An electronic sign or an e-sig, is generally accepted as being an acknowledgment of an electronic message. According to The Electronic in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) passed in the year 2000, an electronic signature is defined as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

A few examples of an electronic signature are:

  • A name typed in a document in electronic form
  • Adding a typed name at the end of an email
  • In banking, your PIN (Personal Identification Number) is considered an electronic signature
  • A digitally captured image of your handwritten signature, such as on a touch-screen device

Digital Signatures

Digital signatures, on the other hand, involve a lot more security features compared to an electronic signature and are generally considered to be a lot more secure. A digital signature will include a certificate of authenticity that ensures the signature on a document is valid.

Digital Signatures

When using a digital signature, all parties can see when a document was changed in a way that would render it invalid. The sign off includes a private decryption key, which makes it a lot more secure and verifiable by anyone involved.

Wet Signatures

If someone asks you for a wet sign off, don’t be too confused. The meaning of a wet is pretty straightforward. It refers to what is done in-person on an original copy of the contract or document. 

a man signing a wet signature

The term “wet signature” evokes the idea of a done in ink that takes time to dry. Of course, these days you won’t be signing any documents with a quill and parchment, so wet signatures mainly refer to a contract signed in person, not digitally or electronically.

How to Choose Your Signature

There are many different types of signatures out there, but ultimately, the one you choose should reflect your own identity. Is something personal, and while it can evolve slightly over a person’s lifetime, it generally stays the same and indicates your personal authentication.

Many people seem to get mixed up between autographs and signatures. An autograph is generally used by a celebrity or famous person in a public setting, such as on an image or in a book. Usually, a celebrity’s autograph is not the same. The reason being that if their signature was in the public sphere, it could become subject to fraud.

Unlike celebrities, the average person does not need more than one style of signature. When you choose how to sign your name and what your signature will look like, it should look the same regardless of the type of contract or document you’re signing. 

Of course, there’s no legal requirement for keeping your signature identical. Technically, you can sign your rental contract, car lease, and employment contract with entirely different signatures. Each one would be legal. However, you risk running into issues down the line if your signature ever gets called into question and needs to be compared with signatures on other legal documents. 

Besides the style, everyone will have their own preferences for how to write their name. Here are some examples of the name variations you can use, illustrated with the help of one of our favorite fictional characters:

  • First and last name: Albus Dumbledore
  • Full name, including middle names: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
  • Initial of your first name and full last name: A. Dumbledore
  • Initials of your first and middle names and full last name: A. P. W. B. Dumbledore
  • Initials only: A.D.

There is some debate on whether initials should be a signature. It’s more accepted to use any of the other variations. However, as it was mentioned earlier, as long as your signature is uniform across any document you sign. A signature consisting of just initials is completely fine.

Business Email Signatures

When it comes to picking a signature for your email, there are plenty of options here too. Aside from including your name. You also need to choose an appropriate email sign off. Any relevant links, and other contact information.

When adding a standard email signature to your business communications. There are a few generals tips and guidelines that are good to follow:

  • Keep it simple: you don’t always need an elaborate signature. Make sure to include your name, job title, company, and phone number, and you’ll be good to go. No need to add all your phone numbers, fax numbers, addresses, or multiple emails if it’s not relevant.
  • Include an image: it’s become more popular to add a small profile image aligned with the text of your signature. This adds a personal touch and can help new clients or partners get to know you better through an email.
  • Add your logo: if you don’t want to add an image of yourself, you can add your company’s logo.
  • Use social icons: it’s a good idea to add icons or links to your business’s social platforms. Your clients can easily find you online and so that you drive traffic to your different channels.
  • Share other business information: Aside from adding social icons or links. You can also use your signature to share a link to your business’s latest blog post. Your company’s recent awards, or even a CTA for newsletter sign-ups.
  • Make sure it’s mobile-friendly: since most people nowadays check their emails on their phone. It’s important to ensure that your signature looks good on multiple devices.

WiseStamp lets you create a custom email signature where you can design the look exactly how you want it. We also have tons of different social media icons to choose from. So, you can add all your different channels to your email signature, as well as links to your blog posts, promotional banners, and even legal disclaimers.

Our newest tool allows you to spice up and personalize your email signature even more. WiseStamp’s free signature maker allows you to create and add a handwritten electronic signature to your emails. You can draw in the provided box. Use any color of ink to sign a document or PDF.

Bottom Line

Between clay tablets, quill and parchment, wax seals, and historic signatures. On life-altering documents, the signature has gone through major transformations. 

signatures from wisestamp

Through all its different permutations. Much of the style and purpose of a signature has remained the same, so it’s unlikely to go anywhere soon. Take advantage of our free handwritten signature maker. Add a professional and eye-catching touch to your email signatures so that you stand out from the rest.