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.