Photographs by John Cain Sargent and Dan Arnold from Monograms for the Home by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith

A duo or trio of letters can speak volumes about a person — when we’re talking monograms. In Kimberly Schlegel Whitman’s new book, Monograms for the Home, she covers everything you could possibly want to know about those meaningful interlaced letters, from the history (dating back to sixth century BC!) to tips on finding your personal style and how to incorporate them into the home. And did you know there’s even such a thing as proper monogram etiquette? There is — and in the excerpts below, you can learn all about it.

Two-Letter Monograms
Place the letters in the FIRST/LAST order or intertwine them to create a cypher.

Three-Letter Monograms
If all three letters are the same size, they should go in FIRST/MIDDLE/LAST order. If the center letter is larger, the letters should go in FIRST/LAST/MIDDLE order.

More Than Three-Letter Monograms
Consider listing them in order or creating a cypher (an elaborate design in which the monogram is secretly encoded).

Married Couples
Traditionally, as monogram expert Margretta Wikert points out, “a monogram is just that, mono, which means self!” I’m all for traditional rules, but not everyone thinks they are still applicable today. Creating a duogram is an example of a time when it’s fine to break the rules! I believe that a monogram is first and foremost a visual marking, so selecting the letters that are most visually pleasing is perfectly acceptable. If that means including another’s initials, so be it…. If you are combining the letters of two people’s names, it is referred to as a duogram. If you do want to create a duogram, remember the “ladies first” rule and place the initial of her first name in the first space. Use the lady’s first initial, Married Last Name in the center, and the husband’s first initial.

What should you do with your monogrammed items after a divorce? I turned to Peggy Post, great-grand-daughter-in-law of etiquette expert Emily Post, for advice on this question. She says, “As long as the new husband doesn’t have a problem with it, why not continue to use it or give it as a gift to one of the children from the first marriage? It would be a shame for your beautiful monogrammed silver or porcelain to go unused.”

Don’t worry if your initials are less than perfect in a row. You can simply use only first and last initials for a two-letter monogram or rearrange the letters in an order that does work for you. Even the finest royals have this issue sometimes: Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge have broken with centuries of royal tradition and separated their letters in their duogram, as WC is the standard marking for water closet in Europe!