As time periods go, the 4th century BC was particularly significant: the Romans constructed the first of their many roadways, Alexander the Great led his first military campaign, and the Greek philosopher Socrates died after drinking deadly hemlock. It was also the period in which ancient rulers began to use artistic combinations of initials to distinguish official currency from counterfeit. Without knowing it, they had created one of the most enduring symbols of ownership: the monogram.
More than 1,200 years later, Charlemagne, the first king of the Holy Roman Empire, devised a personal monogram; later, it became common for all royals to craft signets— the more ornate the better — and execute them in expensive metallic inks and glazes, golden threads, and glittering gems. Before long, the trend had become popular among the wealthy, who had table linens, clothing, silver flatware, and other items emblazed with their initials. It was an expensive endeavor. Monograms of interlocking initials needed to be painstakingly rendered in a variety of sizes; even single letters were often stylized. Then, once the motif had been created, it needed to be embroidered, painted, or engraved to the item by hand.
Monograms became so prevalent among members of royal families that during Victorian times, collecting printed versions of their monograms, crests, and coats of arms in leather bound monogram albums became a popular (and competitive) hobby.
These days, the making of a monogram is not reserved for royals; technological advances have made designing a personal hallmark quick, easy, and affordable as well as having it embroidered, engraved, etched, printed, painted, or stamped onto a variety of surfaces. As a result, monograms are more popular than ever, adorning everything from baby bibs and Yeti coolers to shower curtains, cookies, and gun bags. Even better, accessible monogramming makes creating a thoughtful gift easy. “When you give a monogrammed gift, the recipient knows that you didn’t just pull it out of the gift closet,” says event planner Cricket Newman, owner of Cricket Newman Designs. “Instead, you thought about it ahead of time and got something specifically for them.”
Creating a Modern Monogram
Though the process of fashioning a monogram has become streamlined, details such as placement, size, and legibility are as important as ever and shouldn’t be left to chance. “In some fonts, the letter ‘J’ can look like an ‘I,’ or a ‘C’ like a ‘G,’” says Cricket. “To make sure you’re happy with your monogram, ask to see a proof, which will show you exactly how your finished piece will look. It might cost a bit more, but it’s worth it to have a beautiful monogram.”
In general, a monogram is composed of the first letter of a person’s first, middle, and last names. If all three letters are the same size, they’re printed in first-middle-last order; if the initial of the last name is placed between the first and middle initials, it is larger.
A Four-Letter Affair
For those with double first names, consider stacking the first two letters of a double name to the left of an oversized last name initial. Place the middle name initial to the right. Another option is to create a four-letter block monogram, with the letters all the same size. This also works for people with two middle names or for a married woman who chooses to keep both her middle and maiden names while taking her husband’s last name.
Another option is a diamond-shaped monogram with the two middle initials in a slightly smaller font comprising the center of the diamond and flanked, top and bottom, by the first and last name initials. Double surnames with a space between the two names, such as Von Trapp, are a special case. For a three-letter monogram, either the given middle name or the second last name can be dropped; in the case of Mc or O’, when the two capitalized words do not have a space between them, only the first letter is used.
For hyphenated last names, a hyphenated monogram can look clunky; some designers suggest using a dot or diamond shape between the letters or simply leaving the regular space.
Although husbands and wives each have their own monograms, after marrying many opt to create a monogram that combines their initials. Typically, this monogram places a larger last-name initial in the center with the wife’s first-name initial on the left and the husband’s on the right; or the stacked format places the first initials next to each other and atop the single last initial. Traditionally used for flatware, this format works well in tight spaces. But couples can have fun with their joint monogram, too, separating the first two letters of their first names with an ampersand, for instance, or weaving together the initials of their first names to create a unique, stylized motif.
A single initial doesn’t have to be dull — particularly when it is oversized and embellished in a fancy font or surrounded by a wreath of leaves or curlicues. Names like McDonald can be monogrammed with a single letter or with a more traditional McD.
Classics to Have Monogrammed
Table linens — Napkins and square or oblong tablecloths are usually monogrammed with a single initial on one corner. White and ivory is a traditional combination; these days, though, linens are often embellished in colors to match the room’s decor. Feel free to go big with the monogram to add interest to the table, or use white embroidery on deeply colored fabric. On placemats, the monogram is centered near the top so it doesn’t get covered up by the plate.
Bath linens — Towels are monogrammed in the center of the bottom; shower curtains in women’s bathrooms make a statement when graced with a round, three-letter monogram. Linen, paper, or cotton hand towels used in powder rooms can be dressed up with fun color combinations; some designers will create an entwined, two-letter monogram in two colors or in interesting fonts. “Young people are putting their creative stamp on hand towels,” says Cricket. “We’re seeing lots of holiday colors and themes or, for a housewarming gift, a hand towel embroidered with just the street number.”
Bed Linens — Top sheets are monogrammed so that when the bed is folded down, the monogram can be read by someone standing at the end of the bed. Duvet covers and coverlets look best with a round monogram gracing the center; consider monogramming pillow shams close to the top so that the pretty work won’t be covered up by throw pillows.
Stationery — Center a monogram on the cover of a folded note or standard sheet of stationery; correspondence cards offer the option of placing the monogram in the upper left-hand corner. Place the return address on the back flap of the envelope.
Flatware — Sterling silver flatware should be engraved with a single letter either set within the space left on each piece of cutlery for this purpose or on the back. Larger serving pieces can be engraved with a monogram.
Trays — Whether made from acrylic, wood, or metal, a personalized tray is always stylish. Technical advancements allow for fun treatments, like gold foiling that will not scrape off an enamel tray after its first use, fancy designs etched into or floating within Lucite, and monograms beautifully burned into wood.
Fun Items to Have Monogrammed
For Babies — Backpacks, duffle bags, and nap rolls are especially cute when they have been embroidered with a name or initials. Order one in pink or blue striped seersucker so the little ones in your life will be ready for spring.
Monogrammed soft-side coolers keep snacks, juice, and yogurt cool and are as cute as they are functional. A second, larger cooler will keep groceries cold.
For Parties — Weddings aren’t the only time to serve festive bottled water. For your next birthday party, consider printing a fancy label complete with the date, a monogram, and a photo.
Dress up cigars with personalized cigar bands for bachelor parties, Calcutta auctions, tailgate parties, and bourbon tastings. Personalized stemless acrylic wine glasses aren’t just fun — they’re less likely to tip over than classic stemmed glassware.
For Weddings — Smaller, COVID-era weddings offer more flexibility to create beautifully personalized accessories. Monogrammed linen cocktail napkins, for instance, are ecological, elegant, and a lovely remembrance. Want to say more? Extra-thick cardboard coasters can be letterpressed with a monogram or stylized initial along with the date.
Whether you choose wood, plastic, or clear Lucite, drink stirrers embellished with an initial or monogram make a fabulous first impression. If your reception site includes a seating area with sofas and upholstered chairs, give them some style with throw pillows featuring your new monogram. Afterward, they’ll look great at home.
To Wear — Some things never go out of style; one of those is the Oxford or dress shirt, particularly when it has been enhanced with initials. Position the monogram or initials in the center of the cuff or breast pocket. For more flexibility, have a pocket square monogrammed instead … just don’t wear them together.
Monogrammed leather gloves are an instant classic; consider having the initials hand-painted in gold or embroidered in a subtle shade. Flip-flops offer a surprising number of places to place a monogram, including the straps, a medallion on the top, or an incognito spot on the sole under the heel.
To Carry — Rifles and shotguns can be awkward to carry, especially when also toting dog supplies, ammunition, and water. Corral it all with a personalized gun bag.
You will have no question about which umbrella is yours in the rack if you personalize the handle instead of the actual umbrella.
To Give — Dinnerware is one of the most elegant and enduring places for a monogram. To keep it visible (and not scratched) on fine Herend china, Jean Bruton at non(e)such suggests placing your initials at the top of the plate and saving the monogram for bread and butter plates. Everyday ware can also be personalized in a variety of patterns and styles.
Monogrammed silver julep cups are a Southern classic; for everyday use, consider personalizing stainless steel insulated cups in a classic julep shape.
Whether you choose grosgrain or satin, real cloth ribbon is even more festive when it’s been personalized.