I noticed that my signature got less readable over time, but improved in unique characteristics which is a positive development in my opinion, since I never see a form without a field for first and last name and it's thus not necessary to identify me based on the signature which in the same time gets more unforgeable. It's definitely practical to have name fields on a form, but I was wondering whether there's a legal rule (probably a very general one) which requires a signature to be collected together with name data only in order to be valid (meaning to have the effect you intuitively expect after signing a contract or form).

Maybe there's a difference between contracts and forms.

I doubt that the law in Germany and the EU hasn't converged, yet, so I'm interested in the rules for the latter or both if there's a difference.

The question arose out of curiosity and to be able to be a smart-ass if someone ever annoys me because of the unreadability of the signature.


4 Answers 4


No, in there is no universal requirement as to form (Formfreiheit). This includes associating a signature with a name in block letters. In principle you can enforce a contract in court even if the written contract does not identify the contracting parties by spelled out name, but by signature only. It stands to reason there is no benefit in omitting the full names.

The legislature implemented elevated form requirements for certain legal transactions by mandating the use of a notary. Here, again, there is no requirement as to put a plain text name next to your signature. The link between signature and person is established via the notary’s documentation. You could put an alias “Donald Duck” next to your signature, the notarial deed will indicate that in fact Kalle Richter signed the document.

As far as I am aware all legal transactions will need to go through their official channels. It is simply not possible, for example, to establish a European Economic Interest Grouping on a scrap of paper. Thus there is no issue and in turn no regulation.

One thing is for sure, the does not impose a “minimum framework” on its member states. I recollect there are some directives regarding electronic signatures, but that is a different story now.

  • sliiiight nitpick: Formfreiheit does still require that a contract would need to be acknowledged by both sides in some way or another, and for a written contract, as you alluded to, some sort of signature. Fingerprints in red ink do count as such interestingly enough.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 18:08
  • @Trish Certainly. To put it other words, a fancy signature is not a constitutional element of a declaration of intent (Willenserklärung). Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 18:48
  • in a strange twist: I am not sure if a name seal ("chop") would count...
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 19:11

This answer is a logical analysis in the context of common-law jurisdictions where a signature is any mark that a person makes (a reminder of the time in which rates of illiteracy were high). I don't know to what extent this would be applicable in Germany (but the existence of common-law jurisdictions in the EU is one reason for the lack of union legislation on such matters).

Can a signature be valid without a name datum associated with it?

Yes, but if it isn't possible to identify the signatory (by any means) then it doesn't matter. The point of a signature is to establish a connection between a person and a document. If the person can't be identified by any means then it is not possible to establish that connection. But if you can identify a person with a signature, even without knowing the person's name, then the signature is valid and the connection is established.

Suppose the document is a contract signed illegibly by Alice, who is not identifiable by the signature nor by any other part of the document itself. If Bob, the other party to the contract, wishes to enforce the contract against Alice, then Alice is identifiable through Bob's knowledge that the signature is Alice's. (Alice can dispute Bob's claim to that effect, but in this hypothetical it is assumed that the signature is Alice's, so such a counterclaim would be fraudulent or, in some contexts, perjurious.)

Suppose Alice wishes to enforce the contract against Bob. In that case, Alice claims the signature is hers, and Bob may accept or dispute this claim. If he disputes it, then the finder of fact will decide whether the signature is Alice's based on whatever evidence Alice and Bob present in support of their respective claims.

Suppose Bob finds the contract in his files and cannot remember who signed it. In that case, it does not matter whether the signature is valid because Bob does not know who the other party to the contract is and therefore cannot enforce the contract.

It's difficult to imagine plausible circumstances in which it would be possible to identify someone as the signatory of a document without knowing the person's name, but if it is possible then there's no reason for the failure to include the name on the document to invalidate the signature.


Historical Use Of Seals And Personal Marks

Not precisely on point, but it is common in East Asia and Southeast Asia, and was historically common in common law and civil law countries, for legal entities, such as corporations to ratify contracts with an official seal sometimes called a "chop."

In those contexts, possession of the seal creates a strong presumption of authority to agree on behalf of the entity and it is not necessary to know who actually used the seal to affix the seal to prove the validity of an entity's assent to the contract. Basically, in the language of common law lawyers, possession of a corporate seal conveys apparent authority to use that seal in the absence of obvious circumstances to the contrary (e.g. the other party know the officers of the entity personally and knows that the person using the seal is an imposter).

These days, in common law countries and non-Asian civil law countries, the more common practice is to have an entity assent to a contract with the name of the entity followed by the word "by" and then a signature of an individual corporate officer or agent whose identity and title is expressly stated in the signature block and who signs their own name as the authorizing agent rather than the name of the entity.

In circumstances where a signatory to the contract is not sufficiently literate to sign their own name, the historical norm in common law countries was for that person to affix an "X" on a signature line where the person's name was printed.

In East Asia and Southeast Asia, people who were illiterate in this way but not impoverished (and many literate middle class and upper middle class people as well) would have a signature seal similar to a corporate seal but to sign on behalf of an individual natural person.

In both the "X" case and in the individual "chop" case, sometimes, if there was concern that there might be a dispute over the identity of the person who agreed to the contract, the person agreeing would sometimes also ink their finger or impress their finger in wax to leave a finger print as well on the document.

For what it is worth, the institution of a name seal or corporate seal to agree to contracts and identify someone with a document precedes the idea of a signature by many centuries. Seals were used in the Neolithic (i.e. stone age farmer) Balkan Vinca culture, in the Indus Valley Civilization prior to ca. 2000 BCE, in East Asia and Southeast Asia, and in Sumerian, Hittite and Egyptian cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East long before signatures or full purpose written languages were invented.

Written languages emerged from the earlier practice of identifying things associated with a person with seals. Seals continued to be predominant in the time period when only a tiny percentage of the population, mostly literate clerks, priests, and nobles, were literate in the newly invented written languages, but the masses of ordinary and even reasonably well off people were illiterate and dictated correspondence to scribes. Signatures only really caught on in cultures where an ability to read and write was nearly universal.

Sometimes the identity of a signer doesn't matter

It is also worth noting that there are a fair number of circumstances in which the identity of the person signing isn't very important but a signature is.

For example, in the case of a negotiable instrument like a check, one way to transfer ownership of the instrument is to sign the back. Knowing who signs the initial time is important as it should match the payee of the instrument. But if a check is negotiated to multiple people in sequence the identity of the intermediate and even the final endorser (i.e. person signing the back) of the negotiable instrument doesn't really matter much. Rights attach to the "holder" of the negotiable instrument (i.e., the person in possession of that physical piece of paper) and whether the holder did or did not endorse it (i.e. did or did not sign the back of it) often doesn't matter.

Likewise, if someone is in charge of managing a storeroom, the fact that someone signed a receipt to pick up something that was kept in the storeroom matters more for most purposes than who actually signed it, and there is a rebuttable presumption that the person who signed for it had the authority to do so, even if the identity of that person can't be determined.

A more modern example involves click based assent to the terms of service of a website or online service that authorizes the online service provider to do something that can only be done with consent or requires an acknowledgment from the user (e.g. authorization to shut down an account for non-payment that is payed with a gift card, or acknowledgement that a user is located in a country where certain regulations don't apply). In those circumstances, the online service provider is protected by the existence of a record of the checkoff agreeing to the terms or acknowledging something and the online service provides has no reason to have to actually identify the online user who agreed in the real world.


Yes in .

The case in point is Cass. 1e civ. 27-1-1993 n° 91-12.115. A court of appeals reasoned that without the common phrasing "lu et approuvé" ("read and approved"), one party might not be engaged by the contract they signed. The higher court reversed:

Attendu qu'il résulte de [l'article 1322 du Code Civil] qu'en dehors des exceptions prévues par la loi, l'acte sous seing privé n'est soumis à aucune autre condition de forme que la signature de ceux qui s'obligent ;

Attendu que pour "mettre en doute", au vu de la lettre précitée, la réalité de l'engagement de la société Erisa, l'arrêt retient que seule l'inscription usuelle " lu et approuvé " peut signifier sans équivoque l'approbation du signataire ;

Attendu qu'en se déterminant par un tel motif, alors que la mention " lu et approuvé " inscrite au bas d'un écrit sous seing privé constitue une formalité dépourvue de toute portée, la cour d'appel a violé le texte susvisé ;

From [article 1322 du Code Civil], the only formal obligation for "acts under private seal" is the signature of the parties, save for statutory exceptions in some cases.

Considering the abovementioned letter, the court of appeal’s verdict "put into question" [one of the parties’] commitment because only the usual wording "read and approved" would unequivocally signify that commitment.

Such a mention is of pure form and has no legal effect, and as such the court of appeals violated the abovementioned statute.

That reasoning can apply equally to a lack of name, date, or other formal elements. A signature is necessary, but it need not be legible.

The relevant statutes are articles 1322 through 1325 of the Code Civil. They also give the one limitation for contracts to be valid: there must be one copy for each party.

L'acte sous seing privé, reconnu par celui auquel on l'oppose, ou légalement tenu pour reconnu, a, entre ceux qui l'ont souscrit et entre leurs héritiers et ayants cause, la même foi que l'acte authentique.

Celui auquel on oppose un acte sous seing privé est obligé d'avouer ou de désavouer formellement son écriture ou sa signature. Ses héritiers ou ayants cause peuvent se contenter de déclarer qu'ils ne connaissent point l'écriture ou la signature de leur auteur.

Dans le cas où la partie désavoue son écriture ou sa signature, et dans le cas où ses héritiers ou ayants cause déclarent ne les point connaître, la vérification en est ordonnée en justice.

Les actes sous seing privé qui contiennent des conventions synallagmatiques, ne sont valables qu'autant qu'ils ont été faits en autant d'originaux qu'il y a de parties ayant un intérêt distinct. (...) Chaque original doit contenir la mention du nombre des originaux qui en ont été faits. (...)

An act under private seal [= anything not notarized, i.e. 99.9% of contracts], recognized by the one against whom it is used, or held legally as valid, has between the signatories or between their heirs, the same validity as a notarized act.

The one against whom an act under private seal is raised must formally accept or deny their signing of the act. Heirs may declare ignorance of who signed.

If a party denies signing the act, or in case heirs declare ignorance, the court must determine the signature’s validity.

Acts under private seal with reciprocal considerations are only valid if as many original copies are made as there are interested parties. (...) Each original copy must bear the mention of how many such copies were made. (...) [In , a unilateral promise is enforceable - but then, only one copy is needed, the one for whoever receives the promise.]

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