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The Rules of Monogramming

Although there have been periods in history when single initial monograms and two-letter monograms were preferred, the three-letter monogram has come to symbolize the standard layout.

In the 19th and Early 20th Centuries, when the rules for three-letter monograms were created, it would have been fairly easy to decide which letters represented which parts of an individual’s name.

Alice Canfield Bostwick would immediately recognize this monogram as her own – first name initial (A) on the left, middle name initial (C) on the right, and last name initial (B) in the center, larger than the rest.

In the modern world, things get a good deal more complicated, and so it is with monogramming. The rules haven’t really been revisited lately, and some confusion and disagreement have always accompanied these rules anyway. In an effort to help extend the rules for the 21st Century, we hosted a focus group and asked participants to respond to a series of monogramming situations.

We collected responses over a three month period. The results are posted below. Thanks to all who participated in this project.

1. John Taylor and Mary Blount are getting married. They have already decided that after the marriage they will both use John’s Last Name. How would you create a monogram for them?

- 766 votes.

- 1766 votes.

- 349 votes.

The majority prefer that the man's initial goes on the left and the woman's initial goes on the right. However, there is a reasonable vote for the opposite, with this comment representing their reasoning - "...linens are generally considered a bride's domain."

Selected comments:
"I put the first initial of the person I know best in the first position"

"I would find out if the bride was keeping her name. If so, a three letter monogram is inappropriate. One would have to use 4 letters in that case. People should be addressed (or monogrammed) using whatever title they prefer. If the bride is changing her name, JTM is appropriate"

"Stick with tradition!!! Use her initials on linens and his on glassware!"

"I would just use capital letter T unless requested otherwise. That way the husband and wife are honoring the union of the marriage and the wife's acquisition of the last name. I embroidered some towels for my in-laws with the single initial and it they seem happy with it. It emphasizes pride in the last family name"

"I think a monogram is an individual thing -- it can't represent two people at once. That's why its a MONOgram"

2. Timothy Jackson and David Wells are life partners. They are moving into a new house and want a monogram blending both their names. What would be the best arrangement of letters?

- 1083 votes.

- 1424 votes.

- 293 votes.

There is a slight preference for the solution that uses just the last name initials to create a two-letter monogram. The comments suggest that visual simplicity is the most important factor. Quite a few respondents indicated that they would put some sort of punctuation between the initials.

Selected comments:
"Order of letters to be determined by Timothy and David, based on whichever arrangement looks best to them"

"Because a two letter monogram generally indicates one person, I would use T-D, with a hyphen between the letters"

"They would each get their own towel. TJ and DW"

"I would create a square monogram by placing a smaller T and D side by side above large J and W"

"I'd consult with the couple but would recommend doing ONLY the last name initials and would join them with a stylized hyphen to symbolize their union"

"No monogram for people not legally married"

3. Janice Barnes and Michael Dailey have announced their engagement. After thir marriage they have chosen to blend their last names, and will be known as Janice and Michael Barnes-Dailey. What would their monogram look like?

- 534 votes.

- 1391 votes.

- 685 votes.

In this situation, the majority think that the hyphen should be eliminated. Of those that think it should remain, there is almost an even split between those that think the woman's initial goes on the left and those that think the man's initial goes on the left - interesting in light of the overwhelming choice for the woman's initial on the left in the first question.

Selected comments:
"Just 2 letters same size: BD"

"Yikes! Definitely skip the hyphen. There should be no hyphens in monograms"

"Blending with a hyphen indicates the couple wishes to carry some of their independence into the marriage, so the hyphenate is a must and I think the first name initials should flank the coordinating last name"

"I think when you go past 3 initials it doesn't look as sophisticated. I would suggest doing 2 sets - one for her and one for him"

"I would use large letters on either side representing their first names and two smaller letters in the center in a vertical fashion representing their last names. The center letters would be smaller, but their combined height would be a bit larger then the side letters"

4. The O’Connors have a new baby – Jennifer Marie. You want to embroider a monogram for her as a gift. What is the best choice for the arrangement of letters?

- 350 votes.

- 2297 votes.

- 177 votes.

On this question the clear majority prefers to use the O in the center and simplify the look of the monogram.

Selected comments:
"As a person with a Mc last name, I think that is a non issue - just use the first letter of the name!"

"We often incorporate the second letter inside the O"

"For a newborn - I would not do a monogram, but her full name - Jennifer Marie"

"I would use one letter only - the name she would be called by"

"No initials for babies. First name only... a monogram implies history, tradition - isn't it too soon for baby to have a monogram?"

5. Jon March-Russell and Emily Hudson-Smith want a monogram that incorporates both of them, and have come to you to have it embroidered on linens and towels. How would you advise them?

- 173 votes.

- 2297 votes.

- 177 votes.

As the situation gets more complex the opinion becomes more evenly divided. There is a clear preference for simplicity, but the rest is up in the air. This question got more comments than any of the others.

Selected comments:
"Too many names. I would either do a monogram for each...and put it on an individual towel, or just a single initial might be nice. If you have names like this... I would have the individual decide what they like"

"They each need a towel, do his mono on one and hers on the other. Traditionally linens are embroidered with the woman's monogram"

"How do they intend to sign legal documents, like checks? Based upon that answer I would then consider the question of a monogram"

"Since this is an unusual combination of names I would simply show them the options and let them decide which is most appealing"

"No need for life history on monogram - EHS on curve above JMR curved below"

6. Susan Marie DeGennaro wants to get linens embroidered with her three-letter monogram. How would you arrange the initials?

- 149 votes.

- 2651 votes.

- 86 votes.

As with the O'Connor question, a large majority prefer the use the D - the first initial in sequence - with first initial on the left and middle initial on the right.

Selected comments:
"Does Susan think of herself as Degenarro, or deGenarro? (which part is more important?) - then choose the one based on her preference..."

"I would place put a Large D in the center and try to put a smaller G in the center of the D, with a smaller S on the left and a smaller M on the right."

"Tough one-- depends on how recent an immigrant she may be. If several generations, the De may not mean as much"

"An overlapping dG would be nice here"

Final Thought:
In addition to responses to the multiple-choice questions, which were intentionally created in as conventional a form as possible, we also received many thoughtful and creative suggestions for unconventional monograms and design concepts.

In a world increasingly overrun with the marketing of corporate image, it is important to remember that a monogram is a personal "logo", and deserves the same attention to good design. Creating a symbol for yourself, or for someone else if you are in the business of monogramming, can be a very rewarding process.

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