History and Etiquette of the Monogram


The monogram is a set of letters, usually initials, which are combined into a decorative mark that is used to identify a particular person or family. The monogram has been in use for centuries and today may be used in a variety of ways. It is one of the oldest forms of identification and is widely recognized throughout the world. It is important to understand the history and etiquette of the monogram before purchasing your monogrammed gifts.

Merriam-Webster defines a monogram as “a sign of identity usually formed of the combined initials of a name.” The word’s origins are in the Late Latin, ‘monogramma,’ from Greek mon- + gramma letter. Despite its celebrated history, the monogram has often been used to identify a person’s personal belongings. This is a strictly practical use which has no link to an individual’s status.

History of the Monogram

One of the reasons why monograms have been so widely throughout history is the simplicity of its design, as well as the beauty and grace which is imbued upon the item on which it is placed. They are often thought of as a sign of royalty or aristocracy, as they were originally used as the signature of royalty.

Monogram Elite Mini Wedding Collection.jpgEarly Greek and Roman rulers used their monograms on coins and other currency to identify the ruler of the region from which it came. The earliest known use of the monogram was on clay coins which were first made during the transition from a bartering system to a monetary system of trade. As time passed, it became common to mark the valuable property of nobility with a monogram. Eventually, it became common to see an aristocrat’s monogram emblazoned on a variety of items from weaponry and armor to household items, royal banners and coats of arms.

In the Middle Ages, it became common for artisans to use their own monograms to sign their work. Museum curators today are even able to determine during which part of Rembrandt's career a particular painting was completed simply by the monogram used to sign the piece. In his early years, Rembrandt used the simple monogram, RH. As his career progressed, he switched to the more formal, RHL.

Members of the Victorian era aristocracy often used the monogram as an emblem of their high rank in society. But, while the monogram may have a long history and a very close connection to royalty and other wealthy individuals, it is very widely used today on a variety of personal items, both big and small. Early monograms also consisted of only two initials rather than the three to which we have more recently become accustomed. The three-initial monogram which is more common today did not gain popularity until the 18th century.

Contemporary British royals now use a two-letter combination monogram with the groom's first initial in front, followed by the bride's first initial. However, this is just one of many rules the latest wedded royals are choosing to break. Unfortunately, WC, the standard format for a royal couple by the name of William and Catherine, also stands for Water Closet: the British equivalent of our American restroom or bathroom. Because of this unfortunate coincidence, souvenir makers decided to flip the initials, putting Catherine first on all royal wedding souvenirs. 

Monograms Today

More recently, the monogram has become more of a trendy identifier on a person’s belongings than a signifier of wealth or status. Monograms may be found on almost anything, and it is not just individuals who are getting in on the action. Companies also commonly use monograms on logos. And, many luxury cars come complete with the company’s monogram stamped on leather seats.

Monogramming is a great way to add personalization to gifts and has become very common in wedding gifts. These days, it is very simple and inexpensive to add a monogram to a variety of items from clothing and accessories to household items such as towels, serving trays and more. Monogrammed gifts are widely favored by newlyweds as a sign of their new marriage status and is a great wedding idea.

Monogram Etiquette

There are certain rules to keep in mind when purchasing monogrammed gifts. First of all, the three-initial monogram is currently the most common format in use today. In most cases, the last name initial is placed in a large type at the center of the monogram, flankeLettered Rhinestone Crystal Cake Toppers.jpgd by the first and middle initials in a smaller type. For example, a monogram for Sarah Elizabeth Morgan would read as follows: S M E. This is generally referred to as the Victorian format.

However, when creating a monogram with initials in first name, middle name, last name order, the preferred method is to use the same size font for all three letters. Example: Sarah Elizabeth Morgan is SEM.

When creating a monogrammed gift for a newlywed couple, it is common to combine the initials of the bride and groom. In most cases, you would include the first initial of both the bride and the groom, along with the husband’s last name initial, with the husband’s listed first. Thus, if Sarah Elizabeth Morgan marries Alex Franklin Davis, the monogram becomes A D S. Sarah might also choose to incorporate both her maiden name and her married name into the following monogram: S D M.

While these may be the traditional rules for creating a monogrammed gift, part of the fun is creating a unique look that is all your own. Perhaps you are presenting the newlywed couple with a set of matching monogrammed spa robes. You may choose to differentiate the two by putting the bride’s initial first on her robe and the groom’s initial first on his. Or, monogram each robe with each person’s own initials. 

By Mandy Webster

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