Logo of the French Republic "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", French for "liberty, equality, fraternity"

A motto (derived from the Latin muttum, 'mutter', by way of Italian motto, 'word' or 'sentence')[1][2][3][4] is a sentence or phrase expressing a belief or purpose,[1] or the general motivation or intention of an individual, family, social group, or organisation.[2][4] Mottos (or mottoes)[1] are usually found predominantly in written form (unlike slogans, which may also be expressed orally), and may stem from long traditions of social foundations, or from significant events, such as a civil war or a revolution. One's motto may be in any language, but Latin has been widely used, especially in the Western world.


Latin has been very common for mottos in the Western World, but for nation states, their official national language is generally chosen. Examples of using other historical languages in motto language include:

A canting motto is one that contains word play.[10] For example, the motto of the Earl of Onslow is Festina lente (literally 'make haste slowly'), punningly interpreting 'on slow'.[11] Similarly, the motto of the Burgh of Tayport, Te oportet alte ferri (It is incumbent on you to carry yourself high), is a cant on 'Tayport at auld Tay Ferry', also alluding to the local lighthouse.[12] The motto of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity, is a backronym of the letters F.B.I.

List of examples

Map of the states that have a national motto

Mottos in heraldry

In heraldry, a motto is often found below the shield in a banderole in the compartment. This placement stems from the Middle Ages, in which the vast majority of nobles possessed a coat of arms complete with a motto. In the case of Scottish heraldry, it is mandated to appear above the crest[13] and is called slogan (see: Slogan (heraldry)). The word 'slogan' is an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm (sluagh "army, host" + gairm "cry").[14] There are several notable slogans which are thought to originate from a battle or war cries. In heraldic literature, the terms 'rallying cry' respectively 'battle banner' are also common.[citation needed] Spanish coats of arms may display a motto in the bordure of the shield.[15]

In English heraldry, mottos are not granted with armorial bearings, and may be adopted and changed at will. In Scottish heraldry, mottos can only be changed by re-matriculation, with the Lord Lyon King of Arms.[16] Although unusual in England, and perhaps outside English heraldic practice, there are some examples, such as in Belgium, of the particular appearance of the motto scroll and letters thereon being blazoned;[17] a prominent example is the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States (which is a coat of arms and follows heraldic conventions), the blazon for which specifies that the motto scroll is held in the beak of the bald eagle serving as the escutcheon's supporter.

Ships and submarines in the Royal Navy (RN) each have a badge and motto, as do units of the Royal Air Force (RAF).[19][ISBN missing]

Mottos in literature

In literature, a motto is a sentence, phrase, poem, or word; prefixed to an essay, chapter, novel, or the like, suggestive of its subject matter. It is a short, suggestive expression of a guiding principle for the written material that follows.[4]

For example, Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes uses mottos at the start of each section.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c motto – Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022. ((cite encyclopedia)): |website= ignored (help)
  2. ^ a b "motto – Oxford Dictionaries". OxfordDictionaries.com. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  3. ^ motto – Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022. ((cite encyclopedia)): |website= ignored (help)
  4. ^ a b c "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)". The ARTFL Project. The University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 6 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. [failed verification]
  5. ^ "The Danish Invasions". Somerset.gov.uk. Somerset County Council archives. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  6. ^ "Somerset - Coat of arms (crest) of Somerset". Heraldry-Wiki.com. Heraldry of the World. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  7. ^ "Civic Heraldry of England and Wales – East Anglia and Essex area". CivicHeraldry.co.uk. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  8. ^ "South Cambridgeshire". rsnonline.org.uk. Rural Services Network. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  9. ^ "Shetland Islands - Coat of arms (crest) of Shetland Islands". Heraldry-Wiki.com. Heraldry of the World. 13 October 2020. Archived from the original on 26 May 2021. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  10. ^ The Manual of Heraldry : being a concise description of the several terms used, and containing a dictionary of every designation in the science. Illustrated by four hundred engravings on wood (5th ed.). London, England: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co. 1800. p. 132. OCLC 1049649069. OL 24349702M. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  11. ^ Mark Antony Lower (October 1860). "Onslow". Patronymica Britannica: A Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom. London, England: John Russell Smith. ISBN 9780788404566.
  12. ^ "Tayport - Coat of arms (crest) of Tayport". Heraldry-Wiki.com. Heraldry of the World. 13 October 2020. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  13. ^ von Volborth, Carl Alexander (March 1980). Heraldry of the World. Blandford Press. p. 192. ISBN 9780806999609. OL 7944413M.
  14. ^ "slogan". Merriam-Webster. 2003. p. 1174.
  15. ^ von Volborth, Carl Alexander (March 1980). Heraldry of the World. Blandford Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780806999609. OL 7944413M.
  16. ^ Innes-Smith, Robert (1990). An Outline of Heraldry in England and Scotland. Derby, England: Pilgrim Press. p. 14, col 1. ISBN 0-900594-82-9. OCLC 1036776100. Retrieved 1 November 2022. Mottos are not necessarily hereditary, and can be adopted and changed at will.
  17. ^ "USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81)". The Institute of Heraldry. Retrieved 21 February 2024.
  18. ^ "Juhana Herttuan patsas - Pori, Finland – Statues of historic figures". Waymarking.com. Groundspeak, Inc. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  19. ^ Cassells, Vic (2000). The capital ships: Their battles and their badges. Kangaroo Press. p. 190.
  20. ^ Stevenson, Robert Louis (1907). Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. London, England: Chatto & Windus.