We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.
Symbols

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What Is a State Motto?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated: May 17, 2024

US states are associated with a wide variety of different symbols, including state flags, anthems, animals and even gemstones. One of the most common types of state symbol is the state motto. Every state in the Union has a motto, as well as several territories and the District of Columbia.

State mottos have been part of American identity for centuries. Several actually predate statehood. The motto of Rhode Island, "Hope," was adopted by the colony's general assembly in 1664, and was in use even earlier. Similarly, the motto of Connecticut, "Qui transtulit sustinet," ("He who transplanted sustains") was first adopted in 1662. The oldest motto in the United States is not a state motto but the motto of the territory of Puerto Rico, "Joannes Est Nomen Ejus" or "John is his name," which was adopted in 1511 by the Spanish rulers of the island.

Many state have mottos in other languages. The most common is Latin, which is used in 22 states' mottos. The state motto of California is in Greek, while the mottos of Maryland, Minnesota, and Montana are in Italian, French and Spanish respectively. The state motto of Washington, "Al-ki" or "by and by," is in Chinook jargon, a trade language used by Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest. The motto of Hawaii, "Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono" ("The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness,") is in Hawaiian.

A state motto usually makes a statement of some kind about the state's perceived identity. Many express religious sentiments, while others convey political opinions. For example, the motto of Missouri is "Salus populi suprema lex esto," or "Let the welfare of the people be the highest law," while the state motto of New Hampshire is "Live free or die." Others refer to the state's location or natural features, such as "L'etoile du Nord" ("the star of the north,") the state motto of Minnesota, or Michigan's "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice" ("If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you"). Still others express inspirational sentiments such as Oregon's "Labor omnia vincit" ("work conquers all") or Maryland's "Fatti maschii, parole femine" ("Manly deeds, womanly words.")

Some states have more than one motto. For instance, Kentucky has both an English motto, "United we stand, divided we fall," and a Latin motto, "Deo gratiam habeamus" ("Let us be grateful to God.") North Dakota and South Carolina likewise have multiple mottos.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On Apr 15, 2014

@Markerrag -- most states seem to mess with nicknames, not official mottos. Take Arkansas, for example. The nickname has remained "Regnat Populus," which is "let the people rule" in Latin.

The nickname, however, has been modernized. Arkansas was once known as the land of opportunity, but now it is called the natural state. One can argue whether it's better to be known for opportunity or nature, of course, but mottos seem to be set in stone whereas nicknames are not.

By Markerrag — On Apr 14, 2014

State mottos are most often rooted in the history of the state and there are times when the attempt to modernize them results in a dismal failure. What, after all, is wrong with recognizing one's roots when it comes to reflecting on those things that make a state unique?

Share
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.