More and more often, couples are using creative ways to showcase their combined initials on their wedding day. But these letters are actually much more than a beautiful design—they are a form of identity, explains emblem designer Happy Menocal. "We see the monogram and the custom family crest, or emblem, as we call it, as a form of portraiture," says Menocal. "It's a compact, figural way of expressing your whole identity. It could be scribbled on a bar napkin or carefully engraved, but its communication power is equivalent to your handshake, or the timbre of your voice. Is it boxy and geometric or soft and organic? Is it classical and symmetrical or freaky and loose? Your monogram speaks volumes."
Meet the Expert
Happy Menocal is a painter, designer, and illustrator with over a decade of experience creating artistic emblems for wedding stationery, company branding, and interior projects. She is the creative director of New York-based Happy Menocal Studio.
This new combined monogram (containing both partners' initials) can be incorporated throughout the wedding and registry in so many ways. Plus, it can be such a special way to bring your new last name into your home after the big day. But figuring out the formal etiquette of monogram order can be a bit tricky. Whose initials go first? Which letter goes in the middle? What if you're not changing your last name? "For couples getting married, we generally combine the couple's first initials," explains Menocal. "The whole matter of changing/not changing/merging surnames is complicated. But we have done all manner of combinations, and appreciate a challenge."
A classic personal monogram typically consists of three initials in the natural order of first, middle, and last name. If there is no middle name, then the monogram is simplified to only two initials, first and last name. All of these letters are the same size and alignment creating a block monogram. A traditional alternative to this monogram order is if the middle initial is slightly larger than those that flank it. In this instance, that monogram order is the first name, last name, then middle name.
When shopping for monogrammed items, it is essential to ask a married woman for her preferred monogram beforehand depending on whether she uses her maiden name, married name, or a hyphenated approach. However, etiquette does dictate that a monogram with her maiden name is always appropriate regardless of marital status.
Single Initial Monogram
The single initial monogram is pretty straightforward. Only the first initial of the individual's first name or the first initial of their last name is used depending on preference and the object being monogrammed.
One Partner: Hyphenated Last Name Monogram
For a personal monogram with a hyphenated last name, the style of the monogram dictates the direction. When a block monogram is used, the initials are placed in their natural order with a hyphen between the initials of both surnames. For example, Jane Doe-Smith would become JD-S or JKD-S if she includes the initial of her middle name as well. However, the use of the hyphen is not necessary and is a personal matter of style, so JDS or JKDS are also both correct.
When a traditional monogram is used where the middle initial is slightly larger than the others, a woman will place the first initial of her married name in the center. So the monogram order would be first initial, married surname initial, maiden name initial. An illustrative emblem, like the one above, would artistically entwine the letters.
Shared Last Name Monogram
If you're taking your partner's last name, modern monogram etiquette consists of your first initial, the first initial of your spouse's last name, and then their first initial. Typically, these initials are placed in a line from left to right with the wife's name first, but the order of first initials can be altered depending on the couple's preferences. The middle letter is displayed larger than the letters on either side, symbolizing the joining of your names.
Both Partners: Hyphenated Last Name Monogram
If you've decided to keep your last name while adding your partner’s as well (or if both you and your partner are hyphenating your surnames), then the monogram would feature your first initial, followed by the first initial of each surname separated with a hyphen (or sans hyphen depending on taste), and then your spouse's first initial to create a contemporary four-letter monogram. In this instance, the middle two letters would be larger than the two on the sides, representing the last names.
A four-letter monogram may be a bit too letter-rich for some, though. A simplified approach would showcase just the hyphenated last name in a two-letter monogram. So the first initial of each surname would be displayed with a hyphen in between. "We would simply just paint the first letters of the couple's surnames or first names so that it could be 'J' and 'M' entwined for John and Molly, or 'D' and 'B' entwined for Doe-Buck," explains Menocal. "We probably wouldn't attempt combining all four letters."
Keeping Your Last Name
If you’ve chosen to keep your maiden name, while your partner keeps their last name, there’s an option for that, too. Put together your monogram using the first initial of both of your last names, without any ampersand, plus sign, or unifying design element. For example, John Doe and Jane Smith would become SD, with the wife's initial traditionally taking first place in the order. This would look similar to the two-letter hyphenated last name monogram but without the hyphen, or you can stack each of your personal initials for a more contemporary aesthetic.
To really simplify your monogram, see how it looks with just single initials. Use your first initial, followed by an ampersand, with your partner's first initial at the end. For a more modern visual, you can use a plus sign or another design element in lieu of the ampersand. Or, choose to just do a single initial monogram, using the first initial of your shared last name.
With hand-lettering, personal symbols, meaningful color schemes, and illustrations, customized monograms up the ante from mere initial order to full-fledged coats of arms and emblematic family crests that reflect the very essence of your shared or individual identity. "We lean heavily on symbolism from nature, and avoid painting things that might become dated or look cartoonish," explains Menocal. "For example, if a couple loves to ski, I would capture the silhouette of mountains in their emblem, rather than, say, a pair of skis, which may not age well, as technology and fashion changes."
"There are a lot of ways to express yourself to the artist without directly talking about the monogram if that's hard for you to articulate," says Menocal. "We can learn so much about you just from knowing your favorite song, your favorite outfit, what your dream vacation looks like..."
How to Use Monograms
Monograms are a timeless way to make wedding details feel customized. In fact, they have been utilized for centuries. "I believe monograms first appeared on coins around 350 BC, the letters representing the cities that issued them. And the coat of arms emerged around the 12th century, as a form of identification for knights," says Menocal. "We try to take what we see as the best attributes of the earliest versions—the fine detail, symbolism, and symmetry—and add freshness and levity. We also want to empower people to design their own monograms and family emblems—the more scrappy and rudimentary, the better," she explains. A customized family crest can even endure the test of time and find its way amongst a treasure trove of family heirlooms. Just be sure to exercise some restraint and inject small monogrammed accents rather than go all out with monogrammed everything.
Porcelain and fine china are classic registry items that will accompany you and your spouse on your journey through life together. What better way to enjoy all of your cherished family meals together or celebrate dinner parties than with personalized items? Plates, mugs, and even flatware or glassware offer great opportunities to utilize a joint last name or single initial monogram. But again, it's better to choose one item to emblazon with your initials rather than the entire tablescape.
Stationery is quite possibly the most traditional canvas for monogram use. It goes without saying that your communication with others should carry your personal identification, whether that be a simple monogram or a full-fledged coat of arms. In this case, a personal monogram is most appropriate unless the implements will be used for joint correspondence. Customized letterheads or wax seals will add the perfect finishing touch to any missive. "I love having rubber stamps made," says Menocal. "They are so affordable—and you can make your mark on practically anything,
Much like porcelain and fine china, linens are an ideal way to incorporate your crest into your home. Etiquette calls for a single last name initial on all household items like linens or guest towels but a personal monogram for individualized items like handkerchiefs, towels, or pillowcases.
If you can't wait to show off your new monogram, your wedding day itself is ripe with opportunities to display that new crest. "People have them laminated on dance floors, stitched onto flags, stamped on matchbooks, even embroidered on velvet slippers," says Menocal. From the ceremony to the reception to the after party, there is no shortage of monogrammed décor ideas, but etiquette does dictate that a combined monogram should only be used after the marriage is official (so only after officially being pronounced wed unless you have a civil ceremony prior). Cake toppers and cocktail napkins are classics, but also consider emblazoning centerpieces, decorative chair backs, photo backdrops, and all signage. We've even seen a stunning wedding cake with a custom monogram worked into the frosting.
When it comes to favors, we recommend using some restraint. In this case, it's best to only monogram the packaging as not everyone will want a keepsake with someone else's initials.
Garments naturally lend themselves as canvases prime for monogram placement. Robes, pajama tops, tote bags, and shirt cuffs are perennial favorites. "I made my husband a little "S" shaped like a swan to evoke his surname," says Menocal. "And he has it stitched under the breast pocket of all his blue Oxford work shirts."
Jewelry is the traditional choice for monogram placement. Since the Dionysian era, signet rings were used to press one's initials into a wax seal as a legal mark of identity and authenticity. While signet rings have seen quite the resurgence, other placements include cuff links, lockets, pocket watches, or the back case of a wristwatch. With the addition of a family crest or personal emblem, any of these objects can be exalted to the ranks of treasured family heirlooms to be enjoyed by generations to come.