By Sebastien Hayez. Published August 02, 2023

Monogramms: History & Trends in Trademarks


The monogram appears in the late Hellenistic Antiquity as handwritten abbreviations accompanied by a superscript line indicating the abbreviation. 

But the usage is also based on that of the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH symbolizing the name of God. Unpronounceable in order to preserve its divine status, it also becomes a strong communal sign. As early as the end of the first century, Greek Christians would have adopted this practice to show their Jewish ethnic roots. The nomina sacra are thus Christian monograms abbreviating sacred names into a group of superscribed letters.

Another practice consists of superimposing several letters, thus creating a single symbol. This contraction is still the most efficient, both from a mnemonic and graphic point of view.

Four forms linking two Greek letters are frequently used during antiquity, probably for the variety of sounds translated and their efficient spellings: chi-rho, tau-rho, iota-chi and iota-eta.

Illustration : 4monogrammes_chretiens.eps
The four Christian monograms, from left to right: chi-rho, tau-rho, iota-chi, iota-eta
Tau-rho appears in late 2nd century manuscripts contracting the Greek words cross or crucified, and then becomes the staurogram, i.e. the graphic symbol representing both the two Greek letters and its meaning of cross, but also the graphic simplification of the crucified Christ.
xChi-rho gradually supplanted the tau-rho and became established around the fourth century during the reign of Constantine I. It shortens the name Christ.Iota-chi and later iota-eta, like the chi-rho, abbreviates Jesus' name.

In the middle of the fourth century, the Romans saw in the Christian monograms extralinguistic properties having at the same time an aesthetic value and symbolizing the members of the social elite. Formed by the set of letters constituting the name of the individual, the Roman monogram is organized by a set of ligatures flexible enough in a compact group. They are therefore found on the sarcophagi of the catacombs, on silverware, boxes containing silver objects and marking the property as well as the social prestige.

Precious stones from Asia Minor engraved with Christian monograms around the 3rd quarter of the 3rd century: the variety of spellings shows great freedom of use as well as composition, between chi-rho, chi-tau but also versions adding other letters to the whole. Mounted on a ring, these stones could then be used as sealing rings affixing a personal seal whose monogram served as divine protection for the sealed goods.
Copyright Ildar Garipzanov.

The monogram in its Byzantine form is the survival of the Roman Empire through the Ostrogoth (Italy), Vandal (Spain), Burgundian and Merovingian (Gaul) kingdoms. The style evolves under Theodebald (548-555).

But towards the XIVth century, the monogram changes radically of morphology and logic. Instead of covering all the letters of the name, it keeps only the initials of the patronymic and the first name, composed in a skilful and graceful interlacing. This reduction is a radical return to the Roman capital letter, as much as an evocation of the initials found on certain objects of the Roman daily life. Paradoxically, these monograms, called cypher, are more easily readable for our contemporary eyes than the Byzantines monograms.

From the fourteenth century, the wedding trousseau is codified: the domestic textile (body linen, bedding and table) is embroidered with red thread. Then, in Italy during the Renaissance, the first collections of figures dedicated to personal embroidery appeared and were sold by hawkers. In the seventeenth century, girls of wealthy classes learn the alphabet through embroidery in anticipation of the preparation of the wedding trousseau. The practice was democratized at the beginning of the 19th century, and the collections of embroidered figures became popular under the influence of the beginning of the press and the democratic schooling.

Brand of nobility, trade and associated with textiles, these are the ingredients gathered to make the monogram the symbol of luxury. It is to Georges Vuitton that we owe in 1896 the monogram LV, paying tribute to his father Louis, so that the forgery of the emblematic pattern is more difficult.

How to design a monogram?

Monograms are interesting pieces of graphic design devices.

They condense long names into a few letters. Is your name very long? It includes foreign words that are difficult to pronounce? The monogram allows you to keep only the important letters. If, in addition, these initials read like a word, then you have a monogram.

They create a visual sign that goes beyond reading. You remember the shape of a monogram in the blink of an eye, and of course these letters.

They easily connote luxury, tradition, family, in short, what we find in the history of this type of sign.

Illustration Tradition & Luxe : Mode : Givenchy, Louis Vuitton,Valentino, Rocawear, Victoria's secret, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Diane von Fürstenberg, Rock & Republic, Armani Exchange, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint-Laurent, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Fendi, Vera Wang, Tiffany & Co, Banana Republic, Chanel, Estée Lauder, Giorgio Armani.

Designing a monogram is a vast creative process where surprise must allow the best design to emerge.

01. Settings

Type each letter as an independent block and choose a relatively general typeface for now: Garamond, Times or Bodoni for serifs, Futura, Univers or Gill for sans.

02. Cap or lowercase?

The monogram is easier to compose in capitals, because of the more obvious rhythm of verticals, horizontals and the few diagonals. The lower case will give much more complex and varied rhythms; you can try, but later.

03. Analysis

Look at the letters and put them together. What are the similar or different elements (shapes, rhythms)? Also look at the empty spaces between the letters, do they form speaking elements, which can recall something that makes sense?

04. Ligature

Form a whole by linking the letters together in a layout that can be read without too much difficulty. If necessary, you can distort or redraw some letters, or even change the typography.

05. Negative Space

Contemporary monograms play heavily on the empty spaces between the letters. The principle is to put a geometric form of background in which the letters will be cut. For example, the Carrefour logo is a C cut into a diamond. You can also place a letter cut on a geometric background and another letter full.

06. Type Variations

When you have something efficient, duplicate your design and test different typographic styles. Your design have to be unique and to reflect the enterprise’s spirit. You can also play with weights, width, italics, font pairing is also possible if it serves the whole design.

07. Colors

At the end, try to add some colors, but remember to keep the whole design simple et striking.

Contraction, legible, pronounceable:
CNN (Cable News Network), Electronic Arts, General Electric, Wolkswagen, Warner Bros
H&M (Hennes & Mauritz), LG (Lucky Goldstar), HP (Hewlett Packard), PlayStation.