Reader Question: Couple Monograms for Separate Surnames

Dear Swistle,

I have been trying to figure this out & suddenly thought of you because you know a lot about names and also about etiquette.
For 2 people getting married, but neither changing their last name, what are monogram options (for the couple/for the wedding/later, after the wedding)?
I guess I could just make something up using all 4 letters. But is there any set ways it is done?



I do think couple monograms are fun. I remember learning about them around the time Rob was a baby: I was ordering towels from Lands’ End for someone’s wedding present, and I think it must have come up on the order form or something. I was thrilled with the idea, especially since towels had felt a little dull and this would let me do something fancier.

For a couple monogram, the couple’s surname initial goes in the center, and then one person’s first initial goes to the left of that, and the other person’s to the right. For a couple made up of one man and one woman, the woman’s initial goes to the left—but I think the rule there isn’t “the woman’s initial goes first,” but rather “the one who gave up the surname goes first.” (On the other hand, if it were the guy who took his wife’s surname, I would be split between wanting his initial to then go first and wanting the woman’s initial to still go first.)

Swistle and Paul Thistle's couple monogram

couple monogram for Swistle and Paul Thistle

For two women or two men, I think you could go alphabetically, or whatever looks better, or flip a coin. I’d follow the concept of “the one who gave up the surname goes first,” if it applied. If both were changing to a new joint surname, I’d go with alphabetical or what looks better or a coin flip or which member of the couple I liked better.

Anyway, when I read the question, my first thought was that I wouldn’t do a couple monogram for a couple that didn’t have a shared surname. I think of a couple monogram as a quaint/old-fashioned thing, perfect for someone who is giving up a surname and is happy about it, risky for someone who isn’t/isn’t. For example, I did give up my surname, but I wasn’t happy about it; a couple-monogrammed item would have been a risky gift for me. Not as risky as addressing my letters and packages to Mrs. Paul Thistle, but somewhere on that spectrum.

But let’s say we have a situation where each person in the couple is keeping his/her name, but we have reason to believe a couple monogram would go over very well. My first idea was to do a “carved into a tree”-type couple monogram. Like, let’s say my maiden name was Whistle, and I’d kept it when I married Paul. This would be cute on the towels, if the store could do it:

couple monogram for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

couple monogram for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

My second idea was to make the two surname initials large in the middle, flanked by their respective first-name initials:

couple monogram #2 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

couple monogram #2 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

I think that would look significantly prettier if it weren’t in Sharpie marker on a memo sheet.

That’s pretty much when I ran out of ideas, so I searched online. Mark and Graham has a whole section on monogramming. They suggest a two-initial monogram of both surname initials, like this:

couple monogram #3 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

couple monogram #3 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

I like that, especially if the couple’s style is more formal: SW+PT is a more casual look. They also suggest a monogram of “wife’s first, husband’s last, wife’s maiden,” but I assume that’s the woman’s new personal monogram, not a couple monogram.

Wait wait wait. No. I am wrong. A second site (The Etiquette School of Ohio) says that the TRADITIONAL couple monogram is wife’s first, husband’s last, wife’s maiden, and that the MODERN couple monogram (wife’s first, husband’s last, husband’s first) is what I’ve been thinking of as a couple monogram. Well. That may be true, but that seems wrong to me. This does not at all seem to me like a couple monogram for Swistle and Paul Thistle:



Where is Paul in that? That seems like the monogram for me, if I moved my maiden name to the middle and became Swistle Whistle Thistle. Well, I’m ignoring that whole idea and going with the modern version.

Southern Weddings has a good idea about an interlocking monogram. They use first-name initials, but you could also use surname initials. I won’t try to draw it here, because it looks best with big fancy letters. The downside, I thought, was that it was hard to see the initials, or even that they WERE initials.


All the sites agree that couple monograms are not used until after the official marriage has taken place. That is, you can use them at the reception, but not on save-the-dates, invitations, anything you wear as you walk down the aisle, etc. However, they don’t count the SW + PT as a couple monogram, so that would be fine to use before, during, and after the wedding. It would also be fine to use the idea I saw on Neat Cards, which was to use each person’s own monogram with a little decorative thingie between them, like this:

couple monogram #5 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

couple monogram #4 for Swistle Whistle and Paul Thistle

Also, wait, I forgot to look it up in Miss Manners. BRB.

Okay, Miss Manners is not in favor of couple monograms. Here is what she says:

Household linens may be monogrammed with the maiden initials of the lady of the house, a custom dating from premarital monogramming that serves equally well for serial marriages. Couples who are tempted to entwine their initials should try to get it out of their system by carving their names on a tree.


I’m wondering if anyone else has done anything with a non-shared-surname couple monogram before, or has any other ideas or suggestions.

34 thoughts on “Reader Question: Couple Monograms for Separate Surnames

  1. Rachel

    I have no advice about the monograms, but I really like your ideas.

    My question is about changing your last name. Now that is has been quite a while, are you more or less okay with your decision to take Paul’s last name? Did having children change your feelings on it?

    1. Swistle Post author

      I’m still okay with the decision, because it still feels like the right one for what my preferences were (including wanting to share a name with future children). There was no way to do it I would have liked BETTER, is what I mean. And now that I’ve been using the name for more than 17 years, I feel more comfortable with it overall. But I still resent that it was the best of what I considered a bunch of bad options.

      One thing I do wish is that we’d had Paul take my maiden name as his second middle name. I don’t think the idea even occurred to us at the time, but I think it would have made me feel a little less resentful about The System. Also, since we gave all the kids my maiden name as their second middle name, it would have made HIM fit better with the kids and me!

      1. phancymama

        I kept my name and I also feel like it was the best out of bad options and I often resent that there wasn’t a better option. And sadly, using my last name as a second middle was too rhyming. A good example would be Babble Crabapple. So my kids got my middle as their middle, which is my mom’s maiden. So I am phancy Crow Babble and kids are Kid Crow Crabapple.

        At any rate, this post has helped me let go of some of my resentment because now I see a way that I can use both names / monograms on stationary, which was one of the things I most regretted! (See below)

      2. Monika

        He could probably still do it, you know? My husband reached a similar agreement with me when we got married a decade ago (he decided to drop his given middle name completely and take my maiden name as his middle/I kept my middle name and switched my maiden name for his last name…my middle name was important to me, he doesn’t care for second middle names, I was sad to see my maiden name disappear, it had the same initial as his given middle name and he only ever used the initial) but after getting changed at the SSA the DMV wouldn’t change his without a ‘court order’ (apparently a marriage certificate only counts as a name change court order for women in that state at that time). We weren’t willing to go through the money or hassle so he kept his middle name. Then we happened to move to a new state last year and when we got our new drivers licenses he asked them to match it it to his social security card, showed them the marriage certificate and they had no problem. It kind of made my heart melt that after nearly a decade he would do that :).

    2. Karen L

      I know you didn’t ask me, but I’m in a position similar to Swistle. I changed my name and am not very happy about it. At the time (15 years ago) I was fine with it but I increasingly regret it. It was fine at first but I just grew to miss my name. I made the decision very unthinkingly. I wish I had negotiated “future sons get his surname, future daughters get my surname.” I sometimes consider switching back but I can only imagine that people assume the marriage to be shaky, which it is not.

      1. Rachel

        This is interesting to me. I come from a “non-traditional” family. I have one full brother, two half brothers, one half sister, two stepbrothers and two stepsisters. We were raised in a very small town, so everyone knew who we were and that we were all related, regardless of last name. It didn’t bother me at all, and I actually love my huge, dysfunctional family. I consider all of my siblings to be just that…siblings. Not half or step. I am not closer to some than the others. We are brothers and sisters, period. So I totally get that a name is just a name, and it doesn’t define who is or is not family.

        That said, I really love that my full brother and I share a last name. It’s hard to explain without basically negating everything I said above, but I just really love that we are a team, and that people can read our names or meet us and know that we are a unit.

        Had my parents stayed together, I think it would have really bothered me if they had given my brother and me different last names. I just think that if I had come from a traditional family, I would want us all to share a surname. I like the thought of it being us against the world, and what better way to let everyone know we are a unit than sharing a name.

        So basically I am conflicted. I have no issue at all with having a different last name than my mother or some of my siblings, but I also know I would have wanted to share one if it had been possible.

      2. BeckyinDuluth

        I feel the same way. In fact, last year I talked to my husband about me changing it back. He doesn’t really “get” it, but he’s supportive if that’s what I want. I haven’t done it for the same reason you mentioned. People will assume things are shaky that aren’t. Also the hassle/cost. But I think about it often.

  2. Anne

    My wife (TJR) and I (AMF) do not share a last name. We don’t have a lot of monogramed things, but what we do have tends to be of the TR + AF variety. It was a fantastic running joke around the time of our wedding that I was going to monogram everything with our first initials – T&A – because that is a fantastic monogram for a wedding with two brides. Fortunately for everyone, I was kidding.

    1. KP

      Oh man, as a fellow lady-married-to-a-lady, that would have been amazing! (Of course, easier to say as a bystander…)

  3. Misty

    Ooo, interesting. I always assumed with our hyphenated last name we couldn’t have monograms. This makes me think…maybe? We all have a hyphenated last name. I imagine our of sheer confusion, no one would even think of giving us a monogrammed gift. Especially since I consider or last name initials to be NH, together. Not just the N.

  4. Feisty Harriet

    I refuse to change my last name under any circumstances, it’s my name and I’m keeping it. That being said, I don’t necessarily always correct someone when they call me Mrs. HisLastName or whatever (but honestly? Mrs. HisLastName is his Mom, not me. Weird.)

    ANYWAYS, we just bought a house (!!) and I wanted to order a cute address stamp with a monogram or something on it….and got so overwhelmed SO QUICKLY with all the options/non-options for a couple with two last names, that I just ended up going a much more casual route, Harriet & Him (with his actual name, obv). No last names to worry about. Nothing you’d probably engrave on a plaque or anything, but it works for us. (Also, now I’m thinking that Harriet & Him would be perfect for my own stationary….)


  5. Britni

    Oh I am just tickled to death that you answered this.
    I like the sTn * pTn
    Thanks so much!

  6. Marilyn

    I did not change my name, and my daughters have my last name as their second middle. I got a monogrammed item (a nice LL Bean bag) around the time of their birth that follows the Mark and Graham standard above: just two initials, mine and his. And those two initials are the latter two initials for both our girls. I like it.

  7. Jenny

    20 years into my marriage, I wish my husband had taken my last name. (I’m sure he would have agreed.) I do use my maiden name professionally as a middle name. Oh well.

    I love Miss Manners. She is such a hoot.

  8. phancymama

    This is such a great post! I kept my maiden name and kids have husband’s last name, really because I like it much better as a name and it is not as common as mine. I like monogramming, but don’t do it a whole lot with the exception of notecards. My very favorite thing in the world is those one piece note cards (like a big index cards) with a border around it and a name or monogram or initial at the top. I have ones with my initials, and I gave husband some with his initials. And I have some with my first initial. And I have some with my full name. And some with husband’s last name (which I kind of consider our family name). BUT (and here’s the BUT), I often write thank you notes from the family or on behalf of my kids (especially baby shower stuff). And in order not to confuse people, I pick which card to use depending on which side it goes to. So I use one with my name/initials to my side of the family and friends, and one with spouse’s to his side. But I feel irritated at using the ones with just his last name, because I feel invisible (even if I am the one writing the card, so this really makes no sense.)
    Anyway, all that long story to say that I never ever thought about using both of our monograms! I could do our first initials, or our last initials or the AB+CD ones! And, since I did a cutesy naming thing where we are KLMN by initials, I could just put that at the top. Oh, I feel like I can love my favorite stationary again!

  9. Beth

    I didn’t change my name and never considered it nor regretted not changing. I think the tradition of woman taking the man’s name will fade away within the next 50-100 years.

      1. Beth

        My philosophy on our kid was “I don’t care
        What we choose as her last name. That will be *her* name and she can do with it what she would like when she is an adult.” She has my name as her middle. I assume as our patriarchal traditions are questioned, people will make individual choices about kids. The main reason I never considered a name Change is the history of it.
        Woman is property of father, woman marries, becomes property of husband. The whole thing is repulsive.

        1. Swistle Post author

          The children’s names are one of the main reasons women give for taking a husband’s name even when they didn’t want to, which is why I’m wondering if that would change at the same time. It might need to be the thing that changes first.

          1. Beth

            It never bothers me and is never an issue that my daughter and I don’t have the same last name. It’s very common in my area, in fact. I can’t recall a single instance of it being a problem. (Perhaps this is also cultural? I live in a very diverse area with a big spanish speaking population…..) Several friends have expressed regret over taking their husbands names and giving up their own. I think had some of them married just a few years later, they would have decided not to change names. I think women deciding to keep their names IS happening now, on a big scale. From what I’m seeing, future/possible kids names aren’t much of an issue. Perhaps this is regional? As I mentioned, keeping separate names (and finances!), etc is common in my area……This could easily be a separate Swistle post!

  10. Kristina

    After I was married, I decided on the hyphenation route after many, MANY discussions. We’re still totally stuck on the kid name fallout from this whole mess. If I had a time machine (that only has to go back a few months), I’d keep my last name exclusively.

    He thinks the hypothetical children should have his last name.
    I think they should AT LEAST be a hyphen (something he would be okay with if his name came first, which is just dumb to me) AND THEN:
    He tried negotiating by sons/daughters (as mentioned in comments above). He suggested BOYS have his last name and GIRLS have my last name. Because I am a snit, I countered with the argument that the girls could have HIS last name, as he doesn’t seem to care if girls change their name to their partner’s later on and the boys could have MY last name, as it means something to me and I want to keep it going.
    He was not amused.

    For the record, he’s generally a really easygoing man and not as set in his ways as this comment may make him seem. The last name stuff just really raises his hackles.

    1. Rbelle

      I hyphenate, too, and it became pretty obvious when we were naming the kids that my husband would not be on board with giving them my hyphenated last name, or my maiden name (he probably would have been ok with my maiden as a second middle). I didn’t push it because I didn’t want it to BE an argument, but I was surprised because he’s normally not Like That. There is something very deep-seated about traditional naming that makes normally rational people act weird.

  11. Joanne

    I think Miss Manners is perfect and I mostly always agree with her! I didn’t change my name and didn’t even give my four kids my middle as a middle or second middle name. It’s Keyhole without the y and the l and i’ts – ugh, everyone misspells it, even when I SPELL it for them, and I didn’t feel like it went with any of my fretted over first and middle names. My husband’s last name is Heck with a B and I front loaded on my kids’ first name syllables and am happy with the way it worked out. I don’t even consider it to be a bad choice – I mean, those kids have to have a name, historically it’s been the dad’s name, I don’t want to make up a new name or hyphenate or whatever, so for me, this was good. Oops but my original point was I am not into monograms but I like the idea of doing JK + MB.

  12. Atextbookcase

    I kept my surname. My mom didn’t change her last name when she married my dad, and we live in a very liberal area where it is common for women to keep their last names.

    However, I love a good monogram! My husband and I have several items monogrammed with our first initials together (LC), and I’m considering ordering an L.L.Bean bag that includes our daughter’s first initial as the middle letter (LHC). I love the idea of a family monogram!

  13. Marlene

    I come from a culture where it’s common for women to retain their maiden name. In my culture, surnames are not important and often people don’t have a surname at all.
    But when I was quite young we moved to a western country. My maiden name is very long and does not reflect who I am, (all through childhood people would ask about it), so when I got married to a man with a very short surname, I was relieved to take up his name. He was surprised that I wanted to do that because we come from the same culture.
    Growing up in a western country, I wished that the surname of my family members were the same and that was another reason I took up my husband’s name.
    I am still happy with my decision.

  14. Melissa

    I glanced at the title of this and thought it said “Couple Mammograms”. So, that was interesting while I contemplated why a couple would want to have mammograms together…

  15. Catherine

    I love this! Information about a subject I didn’t even know I wanted to know more about. Thanks Swistle!

  16. Cassidy

    so interesting! I absolutely LOVE the interlocking letters. That is my favorite solution by far, if it works for your letters. So pretty!

    I also enjoyed the comments. Being in the South, everyone takes the husband’s name … did not even cross my mind. But so fascinating to read the other options.

  17. Tracy

    I kept my maiden name upon marriage, and we passed it on to our kids as their surname. I wanted to hyphenate for the kids’ surnames, but it would have been 19 characters long. My husband *suggested* we simply pass on my name. He is from a large family of all boys; I only have a sister as did my dad. So we passed on my often-misspelled, often mis-pronounced name. Mostly no one bats an eye, besides my inlaws. I do suspect that if our eldest wasn’t a spitting image of his dad, people might assume the kids were mine from a previous marriage. As far as the continuation of passing on the name… it’s not up to us anymore. Our kids get to decide what they want to do with the name when/if they get married. Who knows, maybe our son would take his spouse’s surname – and that would be cool.

  18. Lawyerish

    I died over the caption “no.” This post was FASCINATING to me. I like monograms (though I own few monogrammed things), but I never knew all the complexities involved with couple monograms. I also love the quote from Miss Manners.

    This also made me laugh because I relate COMPLETELY (down with Mr. and Mrs. HIS NAME ONLY WTH WHERE AM I??): “I did give up my surname, but I wasn’t happy about it; a couple-monogrammed item would have been a risky gift for me. Not as risky as addressing my letters and packages to Mrs. Paul Thistle, but somewhere on that spectrum.”

    I do not like the conventional marriage surname system, either. I did take my husband’s last name, largely because of the children issue and wanting to be an obvious family unit. Still, I bristle at the fact that I no longer get to be an obvious member of my family of origin, at least when it comes to names. And much to my surprise, I am increasingly upset by it as I get older; when I was first married, it didn’t bother me a whit. I’d never go back and change it, but I do wish there were an easier way to accomplish all name-related goals at once.

  19. Fiona

    I kept my name when I married. It felt natural to do so — it’s my own name, why would I change it? It’s also a name I really like, in itself; I would have disliked changing to my husband’s very common surname.

    We hadn’t discussed the surname issue beyond that when we married, because we weren’t sure if we’d have kids or not; but when we decided to put down the birth control and see what happened, all I knew was that I didn’t want to inflict what would have been a very long hyphenated name; I couldn’t imagine a little kindergartener laboriously printing it all out. And although we liked the idea of a blended surname, it was kind of blah one way, and extremely indelicate the other way.

    I was delighted to learn that my husband had no problem with giving our child my surname as a surname and his surname as one of two middle names. Both my sisters changed their names upon marriage, as did my female cousins; and husband’s family tree is huge, and (as I said) his is a very common name. So she’s FirstName (MiddleName HisLast) MyLast.

    For our second child, I suggested he or she be given my husband’s surname, for fairness’ sake. But he said he’d rather the kids share a surname. So our son follows the same pattern as our daughter. People have expressed mild surprise, but that’s it. I think the more conservative folk might be mentally raising their eyebrows, but I doubt they really give it a second thought.

  20. Fiona

    Ugh. Wrote all of that and forgot to get back to the subject at hand: monograms. Or actually, stationary. I would like to do some sort of customized return address stamp, but have no idea what to do with the names. When I hand-write the return address, i usually just print our given names, and that works most of the time; but i would sometimes like to make it a little more formal for people we don’t know well, or provide a reminder of “oh,
    THAT John & Fiona” to those whose memories might be poor. “From JH, and F, K & CM” seems odd, though. Suggestions?

  21. Molly

    Like all good southern women, I monogram everything that doesn’t move. But I’m getting married at 36 (ancient by Southern standards), and I just don’t want to give up my last name. I don’t judge anyone who does, and I’ll respond to “Mrs (husband’s last name)”, but my name is just too ingrained in me. So I’ve been struggling with what to do with a monogram.
    I haven’t read the above comments, but one of the prettiest things I’ve been encountered are cypher monograms. My first initial is M and his is A, so I looked for historical sources (antique printers books have them and they’re public domain) of intertwined AM cyphers. If you’ve ever seen the logo of the college of William & Mary, that’s an example. I found a really beautiful AM monogram and was all ready to send it to the printers until I realized that it had been designed as the personal monogram of Marie Antoinette. So I scrapped that one, but we’ve found lots of them online. For monogrammed items, any monogrammer will have the ability to simply stack the initials. Intertwining them so they overlap each other in different places is a little more difficult, but an experienced monogrammer who knows their software can do it. If you find a design you like, you can also contact an experienced digitizer on etsy and ask them to sell you a digital file for your future use on various items.
    Our biggest problem, however, is address blocking. We both have last names that are over 10 letters each, and they run off the allotted spaces on most templates. Those cute address label stamps? Yeah, not nearly enough room! Both of us are notaries and we only have one place we can get our notary supplies from because our last names don’t fit on the state’s approved design since our county is also 11 letters and also has to fit in the round notary stamp. We are in the process of getting a calligrapher or graphic designer to create a design for us and then turn it into a rubber stamp and embosser for our personal use.

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