What’s in a Name? Proper Monogram Etiquette

Monograming adds a personal and traditional detail to any project: piped icing on cake designsembroidered stitches on home decor, stamped initials on stationary, custom details on sewing projects…the list goes on! But, what is proper monogram etiquette exactly? Which initial goes first? How do different size letters effect the order of the initials? What is appropriate for same-sex couples? If you are confused by all of the possibilities, read on!

Discover the monograming rules for perfectly proper personalization!

Ellie Monogram

Photo and images via Debbie Henry

As the oldest form of identification in the world, monograms date back to Greek and Roman times. They served many roles, from indicating social status, to serving as a signature for royals and artists, to being a form of currency in the barter system. Perhaps most obvious, they identified property and were typically ornate, which makes them desirable when creating elegant gifts even today.

Single-letter monograms

Traditionally, single-letter monograms represent the surname (i.e., last name). That goes for both men and unmarried women. Often, modern single-letter monograms for young unmarried women will feature the first letter of their first names.

Single initial monogram

“H” for Janell Lee Haven               “S” for William Edward Smith

Rules for three-letter monograms

Traditional, three-letter Victorian monograms are the variety we use most often today. Letter arrangement depends on marital status and letter sizes within the monogram.

Same size letters

Single men and single women use the first letters of their first, middle and last name, in that order.

Three letters, same size monogram

“JLH” for Janell Lee Haven               “WES” William Edward Smith

Large surname letter in the middle

Single men and women would use the first letters of their first, last and middle names, in that order. The surname is always the centered, largest font.

Monogram with large center initial

“JHL” for Janell Lee Haven              “WSE” William Edward Smith

For married couples, there are two schools of thought. One is that the bride’s first initial is on the left of the surname initial and the groom’s first initial is on the right, as in ladies go first (below left). This style is often used on linens. The other, more traditional, view is that the groom’s first initial is first and the bride’s first initial is last, as in Mr. and Mrs. (below right). This style was traditionally used on glasses and tableware.

Married three initial monogram

Appropriate for linens: “JSW” for Janell and William Smith                 Appropriate for tableware: “WSJ” for William and Janell Smith

For married men and women, individually, it is tradition for the woman to use her maiden name initial as the middle initial in three-letter monograms. Otherwise, she would use her first name initial, married name initial, and middle name initial.

Married woman monograms

With maiden name: “JSH” for Janell Haven Smith                      With only husbands surname: “JSL” for Janell Lee Smith

For same-sex partners, both first initials of partners’ last names are used together as the surname. If JLH and WES were same-sex partners, their monograms would be either of the following:

Same sex partner monogram

Rules for creating monograms for children are the same as those for unmarried adults.

A note about font styles

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of font styles available for creating monograms. Block fonts are more modern and masculine while script fonts are more feminine and elegant. When choosing fonts for monograms, be aware of how they will be used.

Monograms in a highly decorative script

While a highly decorative script font may look just fine on it’s own, it could be extremely difficult to read when used in traditional three-letter monograms.

Also note that although these are the more “traditional monogram rules,” there are no right and wrong ways to create monograms. Most of the time, it depends on the person receiving the gift. Focus on fitting the design to their personality, and you won’t go wrong!

Learn how to add monograms to all your favorite projects! Monogram specialty fabrics for personalized home decor and accessories in Embroidering Luxury Fabrics by Machine. Try adding custom lettering to your cake designs in the cake decorating class Custom Lettering & Monogramming. Or, use techniques learned in Design It, Quilt It:Free-Form Techniques to stitch a monogram into a whole-cloth quilt!

What is your favorite font for monograms?


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