Notaries Public, also known simply as notaries, are officials appointed by state governments to witness the signing of important, sometimes life-altering documents. These unbiased third parties serve in positions of integrity and responsibility, playing the important role of helping to prevent fraud in the execution of documents such as wills, deeds, powers of attorney, loans, and other paperwork.
Being a notary is serious business, but sometimes it’s fun to explore the lighter side of this profession. Learn more about the history of notaries, some famous people who have served in this role over the years, and a few surprising pop culture references.
The Role of Notaries Throughout History
Notaries and other document authenticators have served society as far back as ancient Egypt. Here’s how the official role of Notary Public has impacted history:
- Ancient Egypt (circa 2500 BC): Notaries, known as “scribes” in the time of the pharaohs, were tasked with chronicling events and handling official communications. Their ability to read and write made them upper-class citizens in Egyptian culture.
- Roman Empire (535 AD): Rome is considered the true birthplace of notaries. Literacy was not widespread at the time, and the “Notarius” was responsible for preparing contracts and wills. As literacy grew and binding documents became more commonplace, the demand for notaries also increased.
- Order of the Knights Templar (1100s): The monastic military order known as the Knights Templar was formed after the First Crusade. The highly educated Clergy of the Order became critically important notaries for all Templar documents and proclamations.
- England (1200-1300): As English common law developed separately from Roman law, England began to appoint its own notaries.
- Conquests of Columbus (1400s): Most Spanish explorers, including Christopher Columbus, were required to bring a notary on their voyages to account for any discovered treasure.
- Early America (1600-1800): Only people of high moral standing were appointed as Notaries Public in Colonial America. The Colonies’ first notary, Thomas Fugill, was famously thrown out of office in 1639 for falsifying documents.
- Presidential notaries (1800s-Today): Notaries for the District of Columbia were appointed by the President himself from the 1790s through the early 1900s. Today, the mayor of DC handles these appointments. Unfortunately, not all notaries in the White House have been upstanding. President Nixon’s notary fraudulently backdated tax forms related to the Watergate case, leading to his resignation in 1970.
Numerous historical and modern figures have served as notaries or at least touched on this profession during their careers. Here are some famous people you never knew were notaries:
- William Shakespeare: It’s said that Shakespeare’s well-known play, The Merchant of Venice, was based on his experience working in a notary office in Warwickshire, England.
- Samuel Clemens: Better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, this author became a Notary Public in Nevada in 1864.
- John Coolidge, father of the US President: When Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President in 1923, his father became the first and only Notary Public to administer the oath of office.
- Jennifer Lopez: Before she became a famous singer, actress, dancer, and producer, Jennifer Lopez was a Notary Public.
- Stanley Tucci: An actor whose roles have included George Harvey in The Lovely Bones, Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada and Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games once held a notary certificate.
Notaries in Pop Culture
While notaries are essential for an honest society, they aren’t exactly adventurous roles. Still, notaries are often referenced in pop culture. See how many of these references you’re familiar with:
- Notary Publix: This web-based series follows the humorous life of a notary public set in 1980s New York City.
- Parks and Recreation: In the final episode of this popular TV series, Garry receives the highest honor from the “Indiana Notary Society”—a 21-stamp salute.
- King of Queens: One episode features Arthur asking his daughter to help him with his homework for a notary class he’s taking.
- The Big Bang Theory: At least two references are made to Sheldon being a Notary Public, including when he asks his girlfriend to read the relationship agreement he drafted while he prepares his notary stamp.
- The Office: Angela wants to break up with Dwight via a notarized letter, but things get awkward because Dwight is Angela’s notary.
- Two and a Half Men: Evelyn lists “Notary Public” among a long list of professional titles she holds.
- Collateral: Vincent poses as a notary to get to one of his victims, lying about his signature being needed on important documents.
- O.A.: The main character is murdered because an entry in his “Notary ledger” can exonerate a man who’s being framed for a crime.
- Iron Man 2: Natasha poses as a notary to get close to the lead character.
- The League: Taco starts a notary business with the slogan, “Don’t terrorize—notarize.”
- Pain & Gain: Daniel bribes the owner of the gym he works at to notarize fraudulent documents with the intent of looting a wealthy businessman’s assets.
- Do You Want Affidavits?: This comedic poem, written by Carl Sandberg, is a conversation between two people. One makes outrageous claims, offering to provide affidavits to prove their point. The piece concludes with one party telling the truth “in the monotone of a notary public.”
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