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What is a Monogram?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A monogram is a stylistic device composed of letters and small ornaments, typically in a compact shape such as a small square or rectangle, although other shapes are not unknown. Many people are familiar with the concept of monograms since fine linen services offer monogrammed sheets, towels, and other household goods. Monograms have also been used historically to sign documents and works of art, and they are sometimes used as ciphers to symbolize various people or concepts. For example, many works of religious art include monograms which reference various people and events.

The concept of a monogram is very ancient. Originally, a monogram was a one letter code, and eventually monograms of multiple letters became common; two to three letter monograms as symbols for people's names are probably the most common type. In order to be considered a monogram, a collection of letters must be clearly interwoven: the initials T.E.K. are not a monogram, for example, but a stylistic device which incorporated the letters to form a single symbol would be a monogram.

Historically, numerous people used monograms. Most monarchs have their own monograms which are used on official publications as well as personal objects; the monogram of a monarch has historically served as a legal signature. Many artists develop their own monograms or artists' marks for identifying their work. These distinct monograms have proved useful for art historians, who can use them to help determine whether or not a work of art is genuine. A monogram can also be used to identify personal property or communications.

In religious such as Christianity, monograms were sometimes used to send secret signals to other religious adherents. In regions where Christianity was repressed historically, for example, Christians might identify themselves to each other with a monogram which symbolized Christ. Monks and other religious officials also used monograms as ciphers in their communications, ensuring that only certain people would be able to decipher sensitive material. The use of monograms as ciphers was also common in secret societies, and some clubs and private groups continue the tradition.

You can design your own monogram relatively easily. Some computer programs allow you to manipulate fonts and texts to create distinctive motifs, and you can also draw one out on paper. If you devise a monogram you like, you can use it to mark stationary, seal letters, and identify your linens, just as people have been doing for thousands of years.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ahain — On Jun 22, 2011

@TheGraham - Wow, I never even thought of putting a monogram on anything at a wedding! This is great -- my friend is getting married in a few months, and I know she would just love the idea of monogramming the cake topper.

Is there anybody who specializes in wedding monogram designs? Who designed and created your monogram cake topper for you? It would be great to tell my friend where to go to find a specialist if I tell her and she goes for the idea (which I think she will.)

Maybe you could monogram the other items at the wedding, too -- kind of make a theme of it. You could put the bride and groom's monogrammed initials on the napkins at the place settings, for example, or on the party favors. Maybe even on the wedding gown and the bridesmaids' dresses.

Thanks for mentioning this. Now I'm excited to tell my friend about this stuff!

By TheGraham — On Jun 21, 2011

@SkittisH - You've got it absolutely right -- monograms are all about personalizing things, at least the personal monograms are.

Some people might be crazy about having monogrammed fashion items, but for me having the initials of somebody I've never met on my stuff is meaningless. It's just like having "Calvin Klein" printed on my jeans -- no personal meaning there at all.

Anyway, as far as monogrammed items go, I do love personal items like towels and pjs, but my favorite place to see monograms used is at weddings. Monogram cake toppers are adorable, especially when the designer makes the initials of the bride and the groom intertwine.

I had a monogrammed cake topper at my husband's and my wedding, and to this day it makes quite a memorable keepsake.

By SkittisH — On Jun 20, 2011

I adore monogrammed gifts! I think it adds such a personal touch to things like towels sets, bath robes and expensive sets of pajamas when they are monogrammed with the owner's initials.

When I receive monogrammed items like these as gifts, it actually means more to me that the monograms are there than what they look like. The fact that the items have my initials on them shows that the person giving the gift not only picked it out with me in mind specially, but that they didn't wait until the last minute and just randomly pluck an item off of a shelf somewhere for me.

I mean, monogrammed stuff is personal -- it shows that they put thought into their gift, and in turn it shows that they think I'm a worthwhile enough friend to spend that much time on. Personalizing your items is what having a monogram of your initials on them is all about, right?

By seHiro — On Jun 18, 2011

@aishia - I never did understand how some people can pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes, not to mention thousands of dollars for a purse. Your explanation does shed some new light on why, though.

I guess it never occurred to me that it's not really the monogram decals or the actual objects that the people are buying, even if they are the hottest fashion items. They're actually buying social standing in fashion and literally buying a reason for other people to want to be more like them.

I'm not sure if that's too flattering, but I guess it makes sense. If the fashion world is about wearing the clothing and having the appearance that others only dream of, envy would be a big part of it for sure.

By aishia — On Jun 16, 2011

@jlknight65 - It's true, it is free advertising. I wouldn't exactly call it slave labor, though, because the women who buy these purses know it will have the creator's monogrammed logo all over it.

They aren't buying the purse for the privilege to advertise anybody, they're buying it for the bragging rights to saying they managed to acquire a purse from that designer.

Since things like monogram bags and monogram hats are status symbols, the women are literally paying their way to a higher reputation in the fashion world by wearing something that will make others envy them.

The fashion world is all about envy and perfection, and if shelling out a fortune for a purse buys them both in one fell swoop, you can bet they're going to jump on it.

By jlknight65 — On Jun 16, 2011

@HappyDay45 – That sure is a different point of view. Talk about slave labor. Not only are they not getting paid to advertise, they are paying for the so-called privilege. That is just too funny.

I have a friend who is a graphic designer and he has created monograms for people and businesses. Some wealthy people have even paid him to design a personal monogram.

They use the monogram not only on their stationery and linens as mentioned in the article, but they also request monogramming on their custom tailored clothing.

By HappyDay45 — On Jun 16, 2011

I see monograms on expensive purses all the time. One of my friends mentioned that she thought it was funny to see someone pay hundreds of dollars for a purse so they could give free advertising to the designer.

Her comment amused me and also gave me a new perspective. Most women see the monogrammed designer purses a status symbol, but my friend saw these women as shills for the designer.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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