Font names can be cool, cute and even comical. But what does a font’s name actually say about it? Are there terminology standards that font designers follow? Can you really depend on a font name to faithfully describe its contents?

First the bad news: there’s no standard conventions for naming fonts. Now the good news: virtually all font names start with their family name. And when fonts are part of families, their names include style and metric terms to differentiate them from their siblings.

Let’s examine how font families, styles and metrics shape the names and personalities of font files.

Blue and white name tag with the words Hello my name is Dusty Bold, begging the question What's in a Font Name?

Font Families

We’re all familiar with font family names, the monikers that identify the typefaces we use every day. They include Helvetica, Futura, Open Sans, Garamond, Times, Palatino, Lato, Roboto and tens of thousands of additional names.

But what about the other style words that follow the family name? What about Regular, Book, Expanded, Bold Italic and all the other members of those font families? Here are some common style variations in the Roboto family.

Ten fonts in the Roboto family, each with different characteristics

Let’s take a look at how all those font variations create complete and harmonious type families. Understanding the metrics of font construction is a good place to start.

Font Weight

The weight of a font refers to the thickness of the strokes used in its character glyphs. The standard weight of a font can be referred to as Regular, Normal, Plain or Roman. Lighter and heavier styles are often named Light, Medium, Bold or Black. But sometimes, font weights (and widths) are specified by numerical designators.

  • 100-900 introduced in TrueType fonts and now used in OpenType fonts and cascading style sheets (CSS)
  • 0-99 as introduced by Adrian Frutiger in the Univers family and subsequently used by other font designers

In Frutiger’s Modernist system, the first digit specifies the weight and the second digit defines the width and slant of the font.

Note that these weight metrics are specified by designers as they create fonts, and not by a standards body that measures the width of strokes in a specific font style.

Style Name Examples CSS Weight Modernist
Extra Light, Extra Thin, Ultra Light, Ultra Thin 100 01-29
Extra Light, Thin 200 30-49
Light, Semi Light, Demi Light, Book* 300 40-49
Normal, Regular, Plain, Roman, Book* 400 50-59
Medium, Book* 500 60-69
Semi Bold, Demi Bold 600 60-69
Bold, Thick 700 70-79
Extra Bold, Extra Thick, Black, Heavy 800 80-89
Ultra Black, Ultra Heavy, Ultra Thick 900 90-99

* Styles named Book can be light, regular or medium in weight. Book is used by type designers to indicate the weight that they feel is best for formatting paragraphs.

Slanted Font Styles

Slanted and italic fonts are a common member of most font families. The precise angle of glyphs in a slanted font style is not standardized; typeface designers select the degree of slant used in their creations.

Graphic of two lower-case m characters, one upright and one slanted

Font Width

Font widths refer to the horizontal size of individual character glyphs in a font relative to the width of their regular or normal style. Width variations come in three distinct styles – narrow, wide and fixed (or monospace).

Narrow Font Styles

Narrow fonts are derived by compressing the width of the base font to make each glyph narrower. Narrow fonts most commonly carry the style name Narrow, Compressed or Condensed.

If a font family includes an even narrower style, they might have names such as Extra Narrow, Extra Compressed, Extra Condensed, Ultra Condensed or Super Compressed. And on occasion, highly compressed styles are called Tall.

Graphic of two lower-case m characters, one regular and one compressed

Wide Font Styles

Wide fonts come from expanding the width of the base font to make each glyph in the font wider than the regular style. Wide fonts are commonly called Wide, Expanded or Extended.

If a font family includes an even wider style, they can have style names like Extra Wide, Extra Extended, Ultra Expanded and Super Wide.

Graphic of two lower-case m characters, one regular and one condensed

Fixed-Width Styles

All character glyphs in fixed-width fonts, also known as monospace fonts, have the same width. Therefore, an i character is the same width as an m character, mimicking the appearance of typewriter fonts from years ago.

Accordingly, the most common style names for such fonts are Fixed, Monospace, Mono and Typewriter. Usually, all fonts in a family are either fixed or variable in width, and not mixed. But in some cases, a variable-width font family can contain a fixed-width style variation.

Lower-case m, i and x characters set in a monowidth font in which all letters have the same width

Lessons Learned

What does all this detailed information tell us about font names? Well, we’ve learned a few valuable lessons:

  • Font designers select names they like for their fonts and specify all their metadata.
  • There are no standards for naming fonts, but there are commonly used conventions.
  • Font families are as varied as human families.
  • A font name doesn’t tell a font’s entire story.
  • Adrian Frutiger was one smart dude.

Use a Font Manager to Understand Your Fonts

To understand your fonts better, it really helps to use a font manager like FontAgent.® It not only enables you to preview your fonts, but it helps you understand their metrics and metadata, and to organize your font collection to streamline your creative and production processes.

Learn more about font metadata.

See how to explore your fonts using FontAgent.