Font names

Why, oh why, is the font I’m typing in now called Courier?And why is the font that comes out on the board itself called Arial? And why is the default font for almost everything else called Times New Roman? What’s the reasoning behind the name Lucida? This question, the origin of font names, has plagued me ever since I actually took note of what my fonts were called, and I haven’t been able to find a good reference that explains even the most common names.

Fonts are named by their inventors. Most font-designers make many fonts, and name them pretty randomly.

It might be that there are actual tales behind some of the more common fonts, but probably Courier (which is typewriter font), Times (which is newspaper font), and Arial (which is magazine font) have a much more mundane origin.

I kind of thought as much. Does anyone happen to know where I can look up specifics? BTW, if I invented a font (delving into my storehouse of useless info) I’d call it Nethead Standard. Errata: Is there any signifigance to names like ‘Copperplate’ or ‘Gothic’ other descriptives? Or are they just as random? And how standard are font names? Is ‘Bauhaus’ on a Win95 something different on a Mac, ferexample?

GuanoLad pretty much summed it up. To add to it, some fonts do actually have literal meanings, like any font names with “serif” and “sans-serif” in it. Since a serif is any short line at the end of letters, similar to what Times New Roman and Courier exhibit. A font like Arial would be sans-serif.

I believe that “copperplate” refers to the type of writing used in the 19th century to engrave copper plate (or any metal plate, really) for presentation plaques and so forth. It was an idealized form of writing, considered the most attractive and elegant style. In order to achieve it, you have to use a crow-quill nib on a fountain or dip pen. This, of course, was popular in the days when people had time to fuss with handwriting, and before typing took over.

“Fonts”… yuck.

Let me say this for us purists: There are “typefaces” and there are “fonts.” They are not the same. A “font” is one typeface in one style and one weight. Futura Medium 12 pt. is a font. Futura Medium 10 pt. is a DIFFERENT font.

That said, I will adopt the common usage of the f-word for the rest of this post.

Some fonts are hundreds of years old and have been given the names of their famous designers, like Claude Garamond.
Because these fonts were “classics,” a modern type foundry would often create a typeface based closely on the original (but more suited for today’s typesetting technology) and call it, say, “Garamond XYZ”, the XYZ being the name of the foundry.

Other fonts are more modern, and as Guano said, they are given names arbitrarily by their designers; often the designers give them their names.

Then there are the knock-offs. These are not-so cleverly named imitations of the originals – which are usually copyrighted and/or exclusive to one typehouse. They are purposely given names very close to the genuine article. So someone will come up with “Future” as a copy-cat version of “Futura.”

The “descriptives” are not ramdom! There are Oldstyle, Modern, Transitional, Square Serif, San Serif, Cursive, Text Letter and Decorative faces.

Incidentally, Copperplate is a great old face not resembling writing at all. It resembles traditional lettering found on stock certificates, diplomas, and other documents that are usually produced using engraved copper or steel printing plates. Lor is thinking of Cursive fonts.

… like the good old typewriter lettering it is based on – is that it is one of the few monospaced fonts around. Thus a lower-case “l” and a cap “W” occupy the same width. This is (or at least was)oh, so helpful when you needed a character-count of a manuscript so you could copyfit it into a book, newspaper, mag, etc. These days with word-processors that count characters and words, it’s not so critical.

But, there’s one place where it’s still very, very important: numerals. When you build a table of numbers (a price list, for example) it’s critical that all the ones, tens and hundreds digits line up, whether they’re thin like a “1” or fat like a “6.”

That’s why just about all numeral sets, on ALL fonts – whether they’re designed for metal type, phototypesetting machines or today’s computer desktop publishing programs – are monospaced.

There are a couple excellent typography books out there (I confess, I’m a typography freak). One that I enjoyed most was the Macintosh Font Book (3rd Ed.) by Erfert Fenton. OK, OK, it’s a Mac book, but only a few sections are Mac-centric. It shows font samples and gives tons of info. And you don’t have to buy the book, just do like everyone else in Bore-ders and read it there. I’ve got tons of info on fonts and typography- e-mail me if you’re still interested. :slight_smile:

On the Mac, the original bitmap fonts (screen fonts to you Windows folks) were generally named after cities: Athens, Cairo, New York, Geneva, Monaco, San Francisco, Chicago, Venice, London, and so on. When PostScript and (later) TrueType fonts made their appearance, the tendency was to avoid using city names so as to emphasize that the font was not a bitmap font. Annoyingly enough, for awhile this made it difficult to find PostScript / TrueType versions of the SAME font, so that if you’d typed a document back in the past in a bitmap font, you’d find highly similar scalable fonts with different names but not scalable versions of the cityname fonts. LaserWriters back then would auto-substitute fonts to get around this: Geneva (bitmap) would print out in Helvetica (PostScript), New York (bitmap) would become Times (PostScript), and so on. But many fonts did not auto-substitute (I used Monaco for monospaced tables and figures and Venice sometimes for section titles); I’d go online (ftp sites; this was long before the web) and I’d find, say, “Venetian”, but not “Venice”. So I’d have to go through older documents and select and change the damn font manually.

I don’t know about cross-platform portability of PostScript fonts, but TrueType fonts convert nicely (I use TTConverter). The font LOOKS the same in general appearance, but the Macintosh is a 72 dpi world (based on the old typesetter’s scale) and Windows is a 96 dpi world. The mathematical instructions in the font tell the OS “draw this shape in 1/xxxth of an inch” and the Mac OS says “OK, at 72 dpi that’s this many pixels” and draws a character that many pixels wide on screen; the Windows OS says "“OK, at 96 dpi that’s 96/72 as many pixels as the Mac guy gets” and draws a somewhat larger character on screen. Of course, even the Mac is not WYSIWYG in the original sense, the way the little toaster 9-inch screen Macs were–it depends on your monitor and the resolution to which it is set, which is seldom literally 72 pixels per inch. But the difference between platforms carries across to output (printers) which is one of the reasons the publishing industry is still very Mac-centric.

Thanks. I’ll look up that book. (I’m more than a little of a typeface freak myself.) And, stuyguy, I’ll be mindful of the difference between ‘typeface’ and ‘font’ from now on.

Fonts (in the modern digitally scaled sense) are roughly characterizable by their sources. Here’s a disorganized list off the top of my head.

  1. Calligraphy (“script”, “uncial”, “hand”, “brush”)
  2. Stone/Woodcutting (“roman”, “fraktur”, “runic”)
  3. Metal Engravure (“copperplate”, many faces with designers names (Caslon, Jensen, Garamond, etc.))
  4. Misc. letterforms limited by writing technology (“courier”, “LCD”, “neon”, “stencil”)
  5. Misc. letterforms limited by reading technology (braille, OCR)
  6. Geometric Simplification (“helvetica”, “deco”, “squared”, “round”)
  7. Mimicry of Non-Roman letterforms (“chinese”, “arabic”)
  8. Contortions of other objects (ropes, twigs, acrobats)
  9. Adoption of pattern within a face (“Bicentennial”, “IBM”)
  10. Distortion of a face (“Rocky Horror”, “Ice”, “Swiss Cheese”, “Oblique”)

I like to collect fonts and have been divesting my hard drive of the ones that are designed merely by whimsy in favor of one that were designed to solve real problems (i.e., my first 5 categories). The best of these are the metal types which benefitted from the most devoted and principled masters of type design who were using arguably the most difficult technology to reach an unprecedented audience. More modern examples of letters I like because they look the way they do for a reason are Scrabble tiles,
refrigerator magnet letters, labelling tape, dot matrix, movie marquee, and currency microprint.

When word processors first became common, some teachers added typeface and point size to their assignment requirements so that number of words per page would be consistant.

I remember the old days (1980s!) when Ascii/Ansi BBSs were numerous; most used an 80 column standard so a fixed-width font was mandatory. I think what did that in was the ascendency of Windows over DOS. Windows did away with having linefeed/carriage returns at the end of lines of text (except when starting a new paragraph) so that text would wrap to fit whatever window it was in. Nowadays, most word processers have special formatting if you need columns or numbers to line up. Still, I kinda like the regularity of fixed-width fonts.

<lil’ hijack>

Can anyone recommend any fixed-width fonts beside Courier, Courier New, and Terminal? I’ve been looking for some for quite awhile now!

</lil’ hijack>

A-HEM. We’re forgetting someone here, aren’t we? Someone who happens to have a relative on this very message board? You couldn’t have picked a BETTER example, maybe?

::getting out knives::

I don’t know anything about the other fonts but know that Times New Roman comes from the typeface used for either the NY Times or the London Times, forget which.

Also, FWIW (from Katherine Graham’s autobiography):

“This book was set in Janson, a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson, who was a practicing typefounder in Leipsig during the years 1668-1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from teh master Dutch Typefounder Dirk Voskens. The type in an excellent example of the influential and sturdy Dutch types that prevailed in England up to the time William Caslon (1692-1766) developed his own incomparable designs from them.”

To me the type looks like Times New Roman except maybe just a little bit wider if I look at it right.

Lynn: We’ve never exchanged posts before, but I have noticed your name and was oh, so tempted to use Bodoni as my example. Please put those knives down. Thanks. Trouble is, I love Garamond (and I knew Claude’s first name.) Also, I must confess, I’ve found Bodoni to be a troublesome face… sorry, but it lacks subtlety in text sizes, and power in display sizes. I WANT to love it, but it never seems to work for me. Sorry.

Mr. Sheepshead: (BTW, love YOUR name.) The two monospaced faces that come to my mind are that way for a reason, like the old typewriter faces. They are OCR and MICR; OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, and MICR stands for Magnetic Ink Character Recognition.

The OCR typeface was created for primative (dare I say) scanners to “read.” It’s not unattractive and kind of techno-y.

MICR is corny because it screams “cutting edge”… a la 1972, that is. It’s that lumpy, squarish typeface you see at the bottom of your checks. Even though it’s primarily used as a numeral set, I have seen it in letterforms too. Documents, like checks, print the MICR numerals in a special magnetic ink which a scanner reads as they whizz past.

You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to ask you about that, Lynn. I thought if I did, though, you’d laugh at me and say, “Jeez, you’re a moron. Can’t you tell coincidence when you see it?”

That’ll teach me to keep my burning questions to myself.

That was very bold of you, Lynn!!! :smiley:

Check out Monaco, the original sans serif Macintosh fixed-width font. If you are on the Windows platform, a Windows TTF version is available here:

It is very readable at 9 points (on Windows possibly at 8 or even 7).

Very possibly another hijack-can anyone tell me if Miami Nights is the original, true name of that particular typeface? For those who’ve never seen it, it’s the typeface they use on 40’s and 50’s diners and such. Its strokes alternate between amazingly thick to razor-thin, and the letters are all the the same height. I think I’ve seen it name something else before, but the only place I can remember it from is my layout class, and we used Quark.