Monogramming adds a personal and traditional detail to any project: piped icing on cake designs, embroidered 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 affect 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 monogramming rules for perfectly proper personalization!
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“JHL” for Janell Lee Haven “WSE” William Edward Smith
For married couples, the surname initial goes in the middle, and the individual’s first initials go on either side.
There are two schools of thought here: One is that the wife’s first initial is on the left of the surname initial and the husband’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 husband’s first initial is first and the wife’s first initial is last, as in Mr. and Mrs. (below right). This style was traditionally used on glasses and tableware.
Appropriate for linens: “JSW” for Janell and William Smith Appropriate for tableware: “WSJ” for William and Janell Smith
For married women, individually, it is tradition for the woman to use her married name initial as the middle initial in three-letter monograms, with her first initial on the left and maiden name initial on the right.
Married men or women could also use their first name initial, married name initial, and middle name initial.
With maiden name: “JSH” for Janell Haven Smith With only husbands surname: “JSL” for Janell Lee Smith
Same-sex partners can follow any of the rules above. If both are keeping their last names, both first initials of partners’ last names are used together as the surname. They can also add their first initials on either side of the surname initials. So if JLH and WES were same-sex partners, their monograms would be either of the following:
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.
While a highly decorative script font may look just fine on its 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!