Signer or signatory?

kachibi

Senior Member
Chinese
Context: legal writing.

Question: May I know how should I address the person who signs a legal document or commercial contract? For examples, parties to a commercial contract, a petitioner who swears in a written affirmation, a person who needs to sign a marriage certificate, etc.

Can I address all of them as "signatories" or "signers"? What are their difference?
 
  • kachibi

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Why not "signer"? I checked the Word Reference's dictionary about "signatory", it says:

    n.[countable]
    1. the signer, or one of the signers, of a document
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Your stated context is "legal writing". In such a context you should refer a person who signs an official document as a signatory.

    The dictionary may give 'signer' as a definition of 'signatory' but that doesn't necessarily make the two words interchangeable. They are certainly not in this context.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    In any case, make sure that you are clear. Let's say the contract is between Fine Fabrics Inc. and Supreme Shirt Co., and it is signed on behalf of Fine Fabrics by Joe Smith, its general manager, on behalf of Supreme Shirt by Ann Jones, its vice president for purchasing. You want your terminology to express clearly whether you are referring to the two parties to the contract or to the two individuals who actually signed it.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    So, to Julian, a signer can also be someone who "signs a document".
    It seems that you are looking for agreement rather than an explanation of the use of both nouns - it is the latter that it is necessary to understand.

    In BE, signer is quite old-fashioned as the signatory to a letter or document. It now sounds a little childlike.
    In AE, the use of signer/Signer has been influenced by the use of Signers as referring to any of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence. This has given AE a tendency to refer to signatories as signers in the case of anyone who signs any formal (but usually a momentous) document.
     

    DaveInVancouverBC

    New Member
    English
    Okay.. so for anyone looking for a genuinely legal interpretation, I found no reference above that actually quote LEGAL DICTIONARY sources.. so here goes..

    Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition has the following instances of the options requested above:
    seven (7) references for the word "signer"
    only two (2) references for the word "signatory"
    (and in case anyone's wondering.. there is no word spelled "signator". This is verifiable using both Microsoft Word as well as here posting a reply using WordReference.com's software.)

    Furthermore, the following are found in the specific word definition areas.
    -- Signer: (Strangely, even though the word is used 7 times, they actually do not have a definition reference for the word "signer".
    -- Signatory /sign;t(o)riy/.
    A term used in diplomacy to indicate a nation which is a party to a treaty.
    In general, a person who signs a document personally or
    through his agent and who becomes a party thereto.

    BUT TO REALLY HELP YOU OUT ANY NEWCOMERS TO THIS THREAD, I took some time to literally find and read each of the specific mentions (located within Black's Dictionary) of the two words above, and what I found should easily enable anyone to make a proper distinction.
    - EVERY use of the word "signer" was applied to referencing the specific person who PHYSICALLY MAKES (CREATES) a signature on a document, whereas...
    - the one reference to the word 'signatory' refers only to the POWER (or AUTHORITY) someone POSSESSES for the purpose of ruling whether or not a signature is lawfully valid with regard to any signing of a specific (named) document type.

    Black's Law Dictionary is the formal reference for Judges from all English speaking nations. And that enables me to believe that if this is sufficient guidance for Supreme and lower court judges, the rest of us should likely be equipped quite well now, to draw a successful conclusion from what I have posted here.

    My take is that the question above, itself, is actually written in a manner that is ambiguous enough that it offers both of these words to be the correct answer.

    Although, it did seem to me, that the original person posted this question was leaning more toward asking what the actual person DOING the signing should be called,
    I the submit the following summary:
    Because the word 'signatory' only refers to the official legal POWER a person needs to be appointed with in order to BE the one who affixes his/her signature to a certain specific type of document,
    then using the word 'signatory' as a reference to someone who was (or is going to to be) the person who physically executes the act of signing, would be an INCORRECT use of the word; whereas, contrarily, the word 'signer' is definitely the appropriate word to employ.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Welcome to WRF, DaveInVancouverBC.
    I admit that I am a little confused by your post. If it helps, this is from the OED (ignoring the earliest and irrelevant meaning of "signatory"):

    Signatory
    A2 (Adj.). Of a person or state: having signed a particular document, esp. a treaty.
    1847 Times 20 Jan. 5/2 As signatory witnesses to the treaty of Vienna I ask the Government what was the severance of Belgium from Holland?

    B2. (n.) A person who or state which has signed a particular document, esp. a treaty.
    1866 Contemp. Rev. 1 261 That the twenty signatories were..the majority of the members present in the Lower House.

    Signer
    1.a (n.) a. A person who signs a letter, document, etc.; one who has signed something; a signatory.
    1718 R. Wodrow Corr. (1843) II. 404 I am flattered with a hundred signers at Glasgow.
    (From 1854 on, the only examples are from the USA and are synonyms of "signatory".)

    1. b. spec. U.S. Usually with capital initial. Any of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence.
    1838 U.S. Mag. & Democratic Rev. Jan. 150 Three of the first judges..were framers. Another, [Samuel] Chase, was a signer.

    2. A person who communicates by gesture, (now) esp. as part of a system of sign language.
    1620 W. Guild Moses Unvailed Ep. Ded. sig. A.5 They remained in vigour, albeit (like Zacharie before his sonnes birth) they were dumbe and obscure signers.
     

    acme_54

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm currently translating a text about e-signature systems and regulations and am using both signer and signatory as synonyms, mainly because the term occurs so many times throughout the text that any "change is as good as a rest"...
    I think if I used "signatory" all the way through it would be deadly dull to read.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I think if I used "signatory" all the way through it would be deadly dull to read.
    Do you think that your readers will think that you are trying to make a distinction between a signatory and a signer? I would think that.

    In fact, I think that within the next year, someone like the OP will arrive and ask about that difference.

    In translation of information (as opposed to literature) consistency is an asset. I don't think "making it interesting" is necessary. Try a noun phrase/clause if you become desperate. ""The code is embedded in the name of whoever signs", etc.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    There is nothing incorrect about signer. The only thing is that it is not used as often as signatory and may sound unnatural as a result (many such words are common and so sound ok, e.g. driver).

    Here are a few sentences from a UK Law Report:
    A signature is usually, but need not be, the signer's name. The signature may consist of initials. It may, in the case of a person who can not write,
    be merely a mark. It must be appended to the document either by the signer or by some person acting at the signer's direction
    and in the signer's presence.

    The word signatory is used for a person who signs (the signer of) legal documents/treaties etc. If you need to use this word a lot, it is probably simpler to use signer instead of signatory, unless it is used in the actual treaty/contract/legal document.

    But don't mix the words. :)
     
    Last edited:

    acme_54

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Do you think that your readers will think that you are trying to make a distinction between a signatory and a signer? I would think that.

    In fact, I think that within the next year, someone like the OP will arrive and ask about that difference.

    In translation of information (as opposed to literature) consistency is an asset. I don't think "making it interesting" is necessary. Try a noun phrase/clause if you become desperate. ""The code is embedded in the name of whoever signs", etc.
    No, my target audience are professional business people, already using EDI technology; they know what it's all about and if I thought there was any chance of them thinking that signatory and signer were referring to different concepts in the text I'm working on, then I'd avoid the synonymy. I'm not sure what you mean by OP.... But I really don't see anyone turning up baffled by or querying my use of signatory/signer in the handbook, which anyway includes a glossary for users.
    PS: I think "making it interesting" for the target audience is important in all communication, including translation, whenever possible. This needn't mean dumbing down or inconsistency.
     
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