Who doesn’t love monograms? Monogrammed goodies make the perfect gift for everyone at every occasion. Birthdays. Christmas. Weddings. Especially weddings. But wait, how are we supposed to monogram items for the happy couple? What if she keeps her maiden name? What if they hyphenate their names? What if their name is “von” something or “O’” something?
That’s the only problem with monograms: understanding the proper etiquette for monogramming gifts. But no worries, we’re going to clearly explain monogram etiquette so you are sure to give not only the perfect gift, but the perfectly monogrammed gift.
The word monogram means “one letter,” because, strictly speaking, monograms are created by overlapping several letters to create a single symbol. Few of us speak that strictly, though, so we use “monogram” to refer to any symbol created by putting initials together—they don’t have to overlap.
Monograms began as identifiers on currency, showing the name of the authority that made the coin. This started out as the Greek cities that made their own coins, but later became the kings who ruled the country. After coins, the monogram started being stamped on anything that was under the authority of the royal family. Like official proclamations. And royal property. And even post office boxes. So the monogram became associated with royalty. That’s why aristocratic families use them, and why they have the power to make any of us feel like a princess.
Because we in the South have a stronger sense of our aristocratic ties, we’re more likely to use monograms, but, really, anyone with a strong sense of family uses a monogram to celebrate who they are and where they come from. Or it can simply be a reflection of your personal style.
We will use Emily Gabriella Smith in our example here. There are three common ways to create a monogram for a single man or woman. You can use the no-frills single letter of the last name, which in this case would be: S. Or you can use all three initials in the same size: first, middle, last--what we call straight initials, which in Emily’s case would appear as EGS. Or you can use three initials with the last name initial larger and in the center between the first initial and middle initial: first, last (larger), middle—what we call monogram style. For Emily, this would look like ESG, with the S larger in the center.
But what do you do if you are going to make a monogram for someone with a complicated last name like “von Miller” or “O’Henry” or “McDonald”? This seems complicated, but in most situations it’s easy: just use the first letter of the last name: “V,” “O,” or “M.” For example, if Emily got married and became Emily Gabriella O’Henry, her monogram would be EOG or her three straight initials would be EGO.
For a fun variation, instead of using the single initial for the last name only monogram, you can refer to the complicated last name: “vM” (make sure you know whether the family capitalizes the “v”—some do and some don’t!) or “OH” or “McD.”
Things get a little more complicated when people get married, but here’s a quick guide. If you’re giving a gift to the couple, and she’s taking his name, you typically put her first initial first, followed by their last initial (larger) in the center, followed by his first initial. So let’s consider this couple: Lesley Willow Smith (her mom was a hippie but her dad would only compromise on the middle name because his family is very traditional) marries Robert Patrick Martin, the proper monogram would be: LMR, with the “M” larger in the center.
But if you were giving items to the bride alone, such as a monogrammed handkerchief, you would monogram with her three straight initials LSM or LMS, with the “M” larger. In this example, the bride moved her maiden name to her middle name & took her husband’s last name, giving her the married name Lesley Smith Martin. If by chance she keeps her middle name and drops her maiden name altogether, you would follow the same pattern just mentioned, replacing the S with a W in the above examples.
Items given to the groom should have his initials as before: RPM (and, coincidentally, he’s a car nut—loves Maseratis or something) or RMP.
If she decides to keep her maiden name, gifts given to the couple should use the same pattern as above, but if you are giving gifts to her alone, use her maiden name initials: LWS or LSW, with the “S” larger.
I hope you’re still with me, cause things are about to get complicated.
So what do you do if the couple decides to combine their last names? You can use the four-letter monogram: LSMR, with the “SM” larger, but in many cases the four-letter monogram just seems too bulky (but it might be appropriate in some cases, see “Fit the Item” below). So for gifts to the couple you can use the same initials as if she took his name: LMR, with the “M” larger. For gifts to her, monogram as if she’d kept her maiden name.
If you think that the couple would take offense at having the hyphenated name be kind of dropped out in the monogram, just use a two-letter monogram reflecting both parts of the last name: “SM.”
If you have two middle names or if you’re giving to someone with two middle names, it’s typical to just use one middle name for the monogram. Four letters is often too large, and it’s really awkward if you want to put your last name in the middle. It just looks off balance.
When you’re considering how to monogram an item, make some allowance for the size and shape of the item. For example, if you’re putting a monogram on a champagne flute, prefer just the single initial or the three initials with the last name larger in the middle because the curvature makes it hard to see all initials at once, so you want to emphasize what’s important.
On the other hand, if you’re monogramming an umbrella or a car tag, it’s easier to put a larger monogram on it, and this is where you might use all four initials for a couple that’s hyphenating or retaining both last names.
In the end, monogram rules aren’t laws. They aren’t even really rules, just monogram guidelines that make it easier for people to design, read and understand monograms. In the end, it’s your monogram, consider it your own personal logo and choose a monogram technique that you think fits your style the best. It’s yours, and you have full power over it and nobody can tell you different. Readability is something some people worry about, but others don’t. Pick a font you like that you think makes an attractive and distinctive monogram. It doesn’t matter whether people can figure out your middle name or not—just so that when people look at your coffee mug or iPhone 6, they know it’s yours.
If you’re monogramming a gift and you’re not certain what to do, you can just ask. Or if you want to maintain the surprise, many places offer monogram gift cards that allow you to either give the item and they can get it monogrammed later or allow them to pick out the monogrammed item they want.
So, there you have it, a (mostly) definitive guide to monogram etiquette. Now, go forth and monogram because if it isn’t monogrammed, is it really even yours?