Fine linens expert Jane Scott Hodges shares her tried-and-true tips for well-appointed linens.

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A defining Southern question.

“That’s such a Southern thing.” We’ve all heard it, and we all know it can describe countless things. Two of those undeniably Southern things are double names and monograms. As a Southerner with a double name and half of the stuff in my house monogrammed, believe me. Southerners will find an excuse to monogram just about anything, even items as small or unsubstantial as napkins or house slippers. Really.

If double names and monograms are so supremely Southern, why haven’t we decided on a way for the two to live in peace? For all of you out there with four names, I’ve found some ways to monogram with four letters (or ways around it). While I’m no expert on monograms, here’s what I think are the best ways to deal with these two very Southern traditions — and a couple of extra tips, too.

As I said, I have a double name — Mary Shannon. Mary is my first name, Shannon is my middle name, and Wells is my last name. I don’t have a second middle name, so the four-letter monogram issue won’t come up for me unless I get married and have to decide what to do about my last name. However, for examples in this article, I’ll be taking on an extra letter, “X,” to represent a second middle name or maiden name.

Maybe you’re looking to buy a baby gift for a double-named infant or a wedding gift for a double-named bride. Choosing a monogram style and font for a gift is confusing enough, so you shouldn’t have to worry about which letters are actually going on the gift and how they should appear. So whether you have a double name and want to keep your maiden name when you get married, or you have two middle names, or any other way you might have four letters to monogram, here are some creative ways to get around the four-letter issue.

One Letter, No Problems

One simple fix is to have a monogram with just the first letter of your first name or the first letter of your last name in a large font. For me, a towel would have a big “M” or a big “W” on it, and if I get married and take a new last name, it would have the first letter of the husband’s last name. In the same way, you can always get your full last name monogrammed on items that are big enough for it. For example, I could get “Wells” monogrammed on a towel as easily as a “W.” This could be an issue if your last name is long, though. Just one initial or the full last name on a monogram looks clean, but that’s not enough in the South.

Drop It Like It's Hot

Many people with a double name or four names opt to drop one of their middle names (or their maiden name, if newly married with a double name) in order to have a three-initial monogram. This is an easy way to have a “normal” monogram, in theory, but leaving off a name you’ve had your whole life and were given for a special reason might not be easy. I mean really, how do you tell Mama that you’re going to “drop” a name that’s been in your family for generations?

Block Party

One of the most common ways to monogram a name with four letters is to have all four letters in a row in order “First,” “Middle,” “Middle,” “Last,” or for me, “MSXW.” For this type of monogram, sometimes called a “block” monogram, all the letters are the same size and are usually a blocky, straight font. Cursive or curly letters might be hard to read with this style, so stick to simple fonts.

Diamond Doll

Another idea for monogramming with four letters is a diamond shape. The top of the diamond is the first letter of the first name, in a slightly bigger font, and the bottom of the diamond is the first letter of the last name, in the same, bigger font. The left of the diamond and the right of the diamond are the first and second middle names (or the middle name and maiden name), in that order, in a smaller font than the first and last name letters. For example, mine would read (from top, clockwise) big “M,” small “X,” big “W,” small “S.”

Stay Stacked

The next monogram style is a “stacked” look. For this type of monogram, the first letter of the last name is a big font size, and the other letters are “stacked” in a smaller font size to the left of the last name letter. My monogram would have a small “M” on top, a small “S” in the middle and a small “X” on the bottom next to a large “W.” Be sure the smaller letters are the same height as the larger letter when stacked together. This style works best with a straight font rather than an extravagant cursive style.

WATCH: Choosing a Monogram

How To Hyphen

Another confusing aspect of double names is whether or not they include a hyphen. Some double names are hyphenated, and some people choose to hyphenate their maiden name and married name, too. If you want to include the hyphen in your monogram, a block style would be the best option. For example, if my double name were hyphenated, it would be “M-SXW.” If you have a hyphenated last name and want to keep the hyphen in your monogram, the order would be “First Name” in a small font size, “Maiden Name” in a larger font size, hyphen, “Husband’s Last Name” in a larger font size, “Middle Name” in a small font size. For me, it would look like this: “MX-WS,” with the “X-W” printed in a larger font size than the “M” and “S,” just as the last name is a larger font size for a traditional three-letter monogram.

However, I (and apparently much of the monogramming community online) think that adding a hyphen in a monogram looks a little choppy. If you agree, you can simply monogram all four letters and omit the hyphen in those same styles.

Stuck Together

There are a lot of double names that are actually two names put together without a space between. For names like “AnnaLee,” the general consensus is to use the first letter of the name as the first letter in the monogram. If AnnaLee’s full name was “AnnaLee Caroline Smith,” her monogram would be “ACS” in block style or “ASC” with the “S” in a larger font. If you have a double name like “AnnaLee” and want to include, in this case, “Lee” in your monogram, you can follow any of the four-letter styles mentioned above.

When you decide to add a four-initial monogram to an item, remember to consider the size of the item you’re monogramming. Some smaller items might only have room for a single letter, while others have room for all four. Your local monogram shop or seamstress can assist you with sizing, fonts and styles, and might even come up with a personal design for you.

And if none of these options suit you, there is one cure-all for the four-initial monogram issue: Simply don’t monogram anything.

But let’s be honest, that’s just about impossible in the South.