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Updated 2001.08.05

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Autonominal Fonts

Typographers have spent decades dicking around with holoalphabetic sentences (that use all 26 letters, preferably in only 26 letters) for the preparation of typeface showings. Or else nonsense words (like Hamburgefons) are used.

Or, as is currently in vogue, and representing a practice derived from the earliest hot-metal specimen posters (of the sort I mail-ordered from Monotype as a kid), full-justified lines of copy illustrate the variants of a typeface. (The nouvelle formulation attempts to give us cheeky copy: “Rick Poynor ate my hamster,” that sort of thing. The Font Bureau loves this stuff.)

All well and good, if rather obsessif and reminiscent of trainspotting. But I submit that the names of musical groups can combine with the characteristics of a typeface to illustrate the idiosyncracies of the font.

This phenomenon hit me, as if epiphanously, many years ago when I noticed how fabulous the name Quad City DJs looked in Helvetica. Perhaps the example of that throwaway one-hit wonder band was not unique.

In the compilation below, I note how often the feel of the typeface matches the feel of the music the respective band actually produces, even though I went to great lengths to base my choices on visual characteristics, which you can glean through tooltips on each setting. But is this really surprising? Art is supposed to be unified, right?

Note to pedants

There was no effort to regularize font sizes, and renderings are occasionally poor (Eras especially; as with Optima, there is no such thing as too much resolution).

Clearly, “autonominal” is a malapropism; the fonts are not self-naming, as in writing the name of the font in the font, or even in the way that, say, the marketing materials for O Brother, Where Art Thou? actually used the typeface named Brothers. But like so many names of musical groups (what exactly are inspiral carpets?), the phrase autonominal fonts has a bit of magic.

I may add more samples. You’re invited to come up with your own.

Face names and band names

Set 1Set 2

Face name Band name
Set 2 (2001.08.05)
BelweBelwe: [The] Waterboys
DiotimaDiotima: Bruce Springsteen
ItaliaItalia: Jimi Hendrix Experience
MetroMetro: Captain Beefheart
PerpetuaPerpetua: Pere Ubu
PlantinPlantin: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black
Zapf InternationalZapf International: Afghan Whigs
Set 1 (2001.07.16)
AlbertusAlbertus: Sarah McLachlan
Amerikanski TypewriterA-Ha: Amerikanski Typewriter
Arnold BöcklinArnold Böcklin: Black Sabbath
AuriolAuriol: White Zombie
BarcelonaBarcelona: Barenaked Ladies
BaskervilleBaskerville: Basement Jaxx
BauhausBauhaus: Stone Temple Pilots
CandiceCandice: Cassius
CentaurCentaur: Les Negresses Vertes
Cooper Black (everyone’s favourite)Cooper Black: Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Le CochinLe Cochin: The Corrs
CrilleeCrillee: Sigue Sigue Sputnik
DelphinDelphin: Roxy Music
DominoDomino: Black Flag
EinhornEinhorn: Digable Planets
ElectraElectra: Queen
ErasEras: Barbra Streisand
EurostileEurostile: MC5
FrankfurterFrankfurter: Dandy Warhols
Friz QuadrataFriz Quadrata: Sinéad O’Connor
GalliardGalliard: My Bloody Valentine
GillGill: Quarterflash
Glaser StencilGlaser Stencil: Napalm Death
Goudy HeavyfaceGoudy Heavyface: Toni Basil
Handel GothicHandel Gothic: Eminem
HelveticaQuad City DJs: Helvetica
Hobo (everyone else’s favourite)Hobo: UB40
Kabel (original)Kabel: Moby
NovareseNovarese: Kruder & Dorfmeister
Peignot (Mary Tyler Moore, take that!)Peignot: Take That
Plaza ShadedPlaza Shaded: Henry Rollins
Prestige ElitePrestige Elite: Soul Coughing
Pump TrilinePump Triline: Mogwai
Souvenir (the most despised font of all, but an underappreciated gem)Souvenir: Wyclef Jean
Thesis Mono311: Thesis Mono
VenusVenus: Pet Shop Boys