What’s your personal motto? By definition, a motto is a phrase intended to formally describe the general motivation or intention of an organization or individual. Ours might be “Make a map from your data,” while the motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.” The U.S.’s is much more official, as it was proclaimed by Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.
The nation as a whole aside, most U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have their own mottos, which can sometimes be found on state seals, flags, or even quarters.
So, looking at our motto map, let’s figure out the states with more than one, their languages, and the oldest of the bunch.
View U.S. State Mottos in a full screen map
Every U.S. state has at least one motto, though several states have multiple.
South Carolina is one of the four states with two official mottos: “Dum spiro spero” and “Animis opibusque parati.” Both are in Latin, though they can be translated to:
While I breathe, I hope
Ready in soul and resource
Kentucky also has two state mottos, one in Latin (“Deo gratiam habeamus” or “Let us be grateful to God”) and the other in English (“United we stand, divided we fall”).
The same goes for North Dakota and Vermont. North Dakota’s “Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit,” means “One sows for the benefit of another age” while its second English motto is “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Vermont’s Latin motto is “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” or “May the fourteenth star shine bright,” followed by “Freedom and Unity.”
Except for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, which are, unfortunately, motto-less, all other U.S. states and territories have one motto, though they’re in a variety of languages.
The 54 U.S. states and territories have 58 mottos in nine languages. Here’s the breakdown:
- Latin: 26 states
- English: 25
- Chinook Jargon: 1
- French: 1
- Greek: 1
- Hawaiian: 1
- Italian: 1
- Samoan: 1
- Spanish: 1
Latin is the most-used language for state mottos, used by 26 states and territories, including the previously mentioned South Carolina, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Vermont. Also among those with a Latin motto is the District of Columbia (“Justitia Omnibus” or “Justice for all.”)
Meanwhile, the number of English state mottos isn’t far behind, especially in the Midwest (12 states). This includes Wisconsin’s, which is simply, “Forward.”
That leaves just seven states and territories that use another language for their motto, of which each is only used once. Chinook Jargon is the language of Washington’s state motto, which translates to “By and by” in English. Minnesota, California, Hawaii, and Maryland’s mottos are in French, Greek, Hawaiian, and Italian, respectively. Then there’s the Samoan motto for American Samoa and Spanish for Montana.
You can group the map by “Language” to learn more because we’re moving onto the age of these mottos.
For most state mottos on the map, the year indicates the earliest date they were officially used. These range from as recent as 2015 to as old as 1511, so let’s take a closer look at the oldest among these in the table below:
|Puerto Rico||Joannes Est Nomen Ejus||1511|
|Connecticut||Qui transtulit sustinet||1662|
|Massachusetts||Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem||1775|
|Virginia||Sic semper tyrannis||1776|
|South Carolina||Dum spiro spero||1777|
|South Carolina||Animis opibusque parati||1777|
|Vermont||Freedom and Unity||1779|
|Georgia||Wisdom, Justice, Moderation||1798|
The earliest use of a current motto is that of Puerto Rico’s “Joannes est nomen ejus”, which was granted to the island by the Spanish back in 1511. State-side, Connecticut has the oldest motto, “Qui transtulit sustinet,” first used in October 1662.
Of course, it’s no surprise that aside from Puerto Rico, the oldest among these are located in the East, both in the North (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York) and South (Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia).
To learn more about the U.S., we’ve created a flashcard map to help you master each state’s capital, flower, and bird.