With my work, I often get requests for "a personal monogram", when perhaps what is desired is a simple set of initials (or visa-versa). So—what's the difference? I'm going to go out on a slippery slope here, and see if I can explain.
Simply speaking, a monogram is a motif, made by overlapping or combining two or more letters (typically one's initials) to form one symbol/decorative design. Sort of like a ligature, except with a clean separation of the 2 or 3 separate letters. The earliest examples appeared on Ancient Greek coins and represent the names of the Greek cities who issued the coins
The picture above is the Artemis Tetradrachm (click). It features Artemis's bust on the front and above Macedonia, on the back, you can see the small monogram at the top. Monograms have also been used as signatures by artists and
craftspeople, especially when guilds enforced measures against unauthorized participation in a trade.
Here is a great example of one by Master Genius, Albrecht Dürer (click):
Though this latter example is not to be confused with, a Maker's Mark (click), which I'll leave for another post.
With all of this being said, it's only natural that they would be adopted for one's personal stationery. In contemporary use, a traditional, 3-letter monogram has the initial of the last name (set larger, or with some special treatment) in the center. If it's an individual, the letter of their first name would go on the left, and their middle initial, on the right. My name would appear like this — VHD (first initial, surname's-initial, middle-initial). If it is a boy/girl married couple with the same last name, the last-name initial would also go in the center, with the woman's first-name initial on the left, and the man's first-name initial on the right.
Initials appear as just that. My name could simply appear as, "VH" — without my middle initial, or it would be, "VDH"—with. That's it.
Lastly, I have seen a trend these past few years in wedding stationery, which involves using a traditional, married monogram on the Invitation itself. I may not win any popularity points with this, but I need to mention that this is a big, fat, etiquette No-No. Incorporating a couple's first-name initials is great, but otherwise, keep the traditional monograms for the reception or any time after,
"I do". Your Grandmother thanks me. xo Victoria