First, of course, I must address this column’s new name and look. I’m sure many of you can guess what necessitated the change, and, in deference to our topic (good manners, in case you forgot), I will leave it at that!
Moving on! I have a very, very Southern etiquette puzzle for you today. Cameron, a loyal reader, asked me a few questions regarding monograms. She writes:
“I love love love monogrammed things; therefore, most of the items on my registry will be monogrammed. Before registering I read online (but not from credible sources) that the traditional way to monogram items as a couple is to never separate the groom’s first name from his last name. So our married couple monogram as Tom and Cameron Littlehale would be TLC. Since all of the monogrammed items, like bed linens, bath linens, barware, and even our fine china on our registry are for the both of us, I used our ‘TLC’ monogram.
I was under the assumption that I should use our monogram until I read the “10 Ways to get Southern Style” in the September 2010 Southern Living. The article states:
‘The most important piece of advice here? “Always use the woman’s monogram,” sayd Phoebe. “Period. End of story. People ask me about this all the time, and I don’t think it’s proper to combine monograms or to use the husband’s monogram. Think of it this way: Everything in the house belongs to her, and that’s all there is to it,” she says with a laugh. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.”‘
Luckily, my wedding isn’t until next May so I can still edit my registry, but 60% of it is monogrammed and I don’t want to use the wrong monogram on all of those items! I had never heard of this before, and I don’t want to have the wrong monogram on all of my wedding gifts, but I also don’t want to change it because of what one woman said in her interview with Southern Living (although Southern Living is the gospel). I’m so torn, and to make matters worse, Emily Post has nothing to say on monograms. Ahhh!!! What do you think?
This leads me to my next question. Do I drop my middle name or my maiden name? Right now I’m Cameron Baxter Morehouse, but after I marry Tom will I be Cameron Baxter Morehouse or Cameron Morehouse Littlehale? Which do I use as my monogram?”
All lovely examples of monogrammed registry options, courtesy of Pottery Barn
I apologize for the length, but I just couldn’t cut any of that out, now could I? Cameron had me stumped a bit, as well, so I turned to my right-hand lady and expert on all things tradition, Miss Katharine Waterman. Take it away, KTW…
“Thank you, thank you very much. Here are my professional opinions:
Right vs. Wrong: There is no “right” or “wrong” way to monogram. Brides changing their names typically DO use the joint monogram. (And for the record, I am a firm believer that the groom’s initial should come first in a shared monogram; after all, it IS his last name.) It is easier to share a single monogram, plus I actually don’t like the idea “what’s mine is mine, and everything in the house is mine.” Is that really how anyone would want to start her marriage?
Female vs. Male Territory: Now, where Southern Living seems to get confused is traditionally female vs. male territory. As you and I have discussed (Editor’s note: I, Emily, asked her this in an email, so she’s referring to previous office conversations we shared!), linens, china, etc. are typically regarded as the property of the wife. The catch? She would typically use her GIVEN initials, as though this were part of her dowry. Barware, glasses, silver, etc. is the man’s property. Figures he would get the nice stuff! In Cameron’s case, I would recommend using the joint monogram, since she is taking his name. Plus, it’s more egalitarian and not staking out “what’s mine is mine” turf.
Middle vs. Maiden Name: There is no right answer here, either. Traditionally, a woman was not given a middle name with the expectation that her maiden name would, by default, become her middle name once she married. Personally, I would identify most strongly with my surname, but as we’ve also discussed, some people like their middle names more and so that carries more weight. (You, for instance, like Armstrong!) So this is just a personal choice. Which name does she identify with more? What sounds better with her new last name? If she is a traditionalist, she should use her maiden name as her middle name.
Thank you, Katharine! Now tell me: what do you think about monograms? Middle names? Who’s right? Phoebe? Katharine? Someone else?
EDITOR’S UPDATE: We thought we’d clear up a few points that have popped up in the comment section. The tradition is “do not separate a man’s given initial from his last initial,” not “do not separate a man’s first name from his last name” as if you were reading the monogram aloud. (Clearly, by virtue of the awkward and counterintuitive first, middle, and last placement of initials, monograms are not intended to be read aloud.) Traditionally, the male’s initial is listed first (left) to show ownership both over the last name and the wife. It’s the same with all other formal titles of address for married couples. For instance: Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Smith. It’s not Mrs. and Mr. Jane and John Smith. Putting the wife’s initial first suggests the opposite.
It’s only recently that people have informally adopted the new arrangement, but for our generation it is the norm.
One additional source of confusion is that certain references have adopted the more egalitarian “ladies first” motto, whereby the place they bride’s initial before that of her groom in a concerted effort to show he does not own her. But again, this is modern, not tradition.
Now if we’re talking ULTRA-old school, traditionally, there was no joint monogram! Men had theirs given from birth, and women got theirs upon marriage. They stamped the various “his” and “hers” items in the house with their monogram or initial. (For instance, my great-grandmother, KTW I, was not given a middle name, so stamped all the silver with her birth initial “T” for Tillinghast after marriage.
And a last point: it now has become a matter of personal preference, so perhaps saying who is right and wrong is wrong in and of itself, as there are plenty of references for both sides!
Our friends at Aisle Dash also do an excellent job of differentiating between modern and traditional monograms here.
All header images c/o Millie Holloman