What's In A Name-- Or Signature?

                                                               MAM at Book Signing

Many people comment on my "beautiful handwriting" while I sign books. I always thank them, and it's heartfelt.  Yet, each time I hear that, I look at my handwriting, both amazed and amused, remembering how the nuns hounded me as a child to perfect the "Palmer Method" of  handwriting.  I always thought I had a chicken scrawl compared to my mother's gorgeous script!

Mama used to doodle on paper as she read the Sunday paper, watched television, or was lost in thought.  She'd often write her name, Elayne, with calligraphy-like swirls.  I remember how I watched, enchanted, sure I'd never be able to achieve such glory.

Daddy was born and schooled in the early years in Germany.  His handwriting was the fine, European slant that I never even aspired to.  Werner was a pediatrician back in the day of house calls.  He was always in a hurry, always scribbling in the small, leather notebook, a new one for each month, that he kept in his vest pocket.  (Yes, remember the vests? So handsome. I wish they'd come back into style for men.) Whenever I peeked into it, curious what he was always writing about, it was almost a shorthand of words and prescriptions.  I couldn't read a word.

When I was a young girl, I used to follow Mama's example and write my name over and over again, testing a hundred different ways to loop the capital M or the A of my name, how to dot my i, or how to stylize that final e on Alice with a flourish.  Even then I dreamed of being an author and wondered what it would be like to sign my name on a book I'd written, all by myself.  It seemed so big a dream, yet so very real I felt I had to practice for it.

Is there something to the debate as to whether handwriting is tied to genetics or observation/training?  Certainly hand shape, how one holds a pen, etc. is hereditary, but what is inherited and what is learned?  From my own personal experience of my family--I am one of ten siblings and thus a large sampling-- I have to believe it is, in some part, hereditary.  I've observed that there are two distinct styles of writing in my family, and both males and females fall into one or the other.  I get a kick out of seeing the individual signatures and discovering which "camp" he or she falls into. Now I can see a division occurring in my own adult children as well.  One daughter has a script similar to one of the styles of my family--but interestingly, not mine!  The second daughter and son both have the odd, tight penmanship of my husband. 

It's rather sad how penmanship is almost passé today.  How often do we receive letters from family members?  Even Christmas and birthday cards are fewer and fewer as internet cards and invitations increase in popularity.  With emails and texts, it seems handwriting, even signatures, are scarce or considered obtuse. 

Like most things concerned with nature or nurture, the answer is that our handwriting probably comes from a bit of both genes and education.  Regardless, I believe our signatures reveal a peek into our history.  Do you write more like your mother, father, sister or brother?   Did you have to study penmanship?  And, do you think you have beautiful penmanship?  If so, who do you credit?

While the nuns may have hounded me to get the angle of my pen correct, I maintain that it was my mama, Elayne, and my awe at her gorgeous doodling, that influenced me the most.  Here's a poem you'll enjoy on the subject:

Handwriting Analysis

On the first day of fourth grade, Mrs. Hunter
collected our penmanship samples to save

until June; by then, she said, we'd write
in the handwriting we would have all our lives.

Though she probably read that in a book
on child development, I was so excited

I could hardly stand it. In nine months
my adult self would be born, she would

send me a letter; in the ways she swooped,
careened, and crossed her t's, I could

read everything I would need to know.
We were writing ourselves into the future.

We came closer each time we turned
the silver gears in the sharpener near the door,

the wood shavings tumbling inside,
smelling as if a house were being built


  1. Lovely thoughts. I must admit that my handwriting has deteriorated over time. But I do try my best when signing a book. That is a sign of respect to my readers.

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  3. My beautiful mother had a smart little navy blue cellphone, but she spent her entire life writing notes and long letters to her children and close friends. If someone did her a kindness,she wrote a note of thanks. Her friends wrote to her also. On Christmas day, I would curl up in her little mauve chair and read all her cards that were chock full of happy talk. I miss my mother's written words. <3


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Mary Alice