Identity Crisis Solved – Bring on the Monograms (Part 1 of 2)


By Marni Jameson

All my life I’ve had an identity crisis. It started the day I was born when my well-meaning parents named me Nancy Marnell Jameson, and never called me by my first name. As a newborn, I was in no position to argue, and by the time I was, it was too late.

They wanted me to go by a name they concocted by combining my two grandmothers’ names Mary and Nelly. (I can think of worse hybrids, like Gertrude and Myrtle – rhymes with girdle.)

Thankfully, Marnell got shortened to Marni, a name still not found on my birth certificate or driver’s license, let alone on a coffee mug, or necklace, or bicycle license plate, but at least people stopped thinking I was a starting forward for the NBA.

Anyone who has gone through life by his or her middle name, even if it is a normal middle name, like Susan or Debbie, which I longed for, believe me, knows it comes with a huge hassle factor.

Take, for instance, the monogram issue. In college when my sorority friends had their initials blazoned on their crew-neck sweaters, last initial big and centered, my NJM, raised questions.

“What’s your first name?”


“Oh.” Weird face. “Why don’t you go by that?”

“Because no one calls me that.”

This was not a conversation I enjoyed. I’d asked my parents the same question.

“Nancy Marnell was more euphonious,” to use my mother’s exact words, “than Marnell Nancy.” Plus, she went by Nancy, though her name was Agnes, which was never adequately explained.

So, because monograms tripped awkward conversations and poured salt in a personal sore spot, I avoided them, while privately envying those who could sport them with abandon, no questions asked, those pulled together types, who all seemed to have secret memberships in a posh country club that wouldn’t have me.

All that changed when DC and I got married last February. I decided, having proven whatever I needed to prove by not changing my maiden name in my previous marriage, to take my new husband’s last name.

That part was easy. But to legally change my first name required a lawyer, who sent me before a judge, to be sure I wasn’t up to no good, like avoiding debt or jail, which isn’t such a bad idea, if I’d only thought of it. In September, my name legally and officially changed to Marnell Jameson Carey.

Good-bye Nancy. Hello new initials.

Since then, I have been on a monogramming rampage. Blouses, towels, bed linens, stationery. I have monogram fever.

So, when I came across, “Monograms for the Home” (Gibbs Smith Publishing), a gorgeous book, by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, which came out last year, I devoured it in one sitting like a box of truffles.

Then I called Whitman to talk about the club I could now join. “I’ve always loved monograms,” said Whitman, a Dallas-based editor-at-large for Southern Living Magazine. “I love how a single mark personalizes an item and blends a person or family with the history of a piece.”

“And how they make anything look more elegant,” I oozed, “like you’ve just added a strand of pearls.”

But monograms weren’t always for decoration, she said. Once upon a time, back in the dark ages, the use of monograms was purely practical. In Medieval times, villagers stitched their initials on the edges of linens so on communal wash days they tell could tell their laundry from their neighbors’. Later, European monarchy cottoned to the idea, and created more ornate monograms, and personal embellishment took off.

Today, part of the attraction of monogramming is that you can take something mass produced and ordinary, and make it uniquely yours.

But before you go off branding your belongings, here are some fine points to know about the hows and wheres of monograms, according to Whitman:

What is a monogram?

A monogram can be one, two, or three letters that reflect a person.

How do you arrange the letters?

If the monogram style you want features a large central initial, the surname initial goes in the middle, so MCJ. If letters are all the same size, put letters in order, MJC.

How do you reflect a couple?

A mark that reflects the combined names of a married couple is called a duogram. The surname initial goes in the center, then the woman’s initial first, and the man’s last, so MCD.

How do you pick a font?

Where the item is going and what it is dictates font choice. For instance, an ornate silver tray suggests a delicate scroll, while a modern acrylic tray in a teen’s room calls for block type. When choosing your font, look at your initials to see how the letters look together. Play with the order. Whitman’s husband’s initials, JJW, look beautiful and symmetrical when the last initial is large and central. Get a proof before you commit.

Are some letters better?

Monogram experts agree that the most beautiful letters to monogram are M, W, B, E, A and S. More difficult to pull off J, I, F and L, she said.

What if the initials spell something?

If you’re initials spell an unfortunate or unintended word like PIG, switch up the sequence or go for a two-letter monogram with your first and last initials, said Whitman.

How big?

Scale is important, and the trend is to go bigger, she said. “Look to the person doing the monogram to guide you.”

Who does monogramming?

Ask your local tailor for a source, or look online for custom monogramming. Stores that sell wedding gifts often have suggestions. Most monograms today are done by machine, but some are still by hand. Both are lovely, said Whitman. Machine work is more perfect, but a beautifully hand-stitched monogram on a handkerchief is nothing to sneeze at.

Join me next week join me to learn unexpected and beautiful ways to incorporate monograms in every room in the house.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at