Make a Family Motto
"What we imagine, attend to, and imitate, we become." ~Sidney Callahan, theologian
Parents should endeavor to pass on to their children a message of what is important in life. This was discussed in last week's article about developing a family mission statement. (If you missed it, you can click here to read it.) Perhaps you would like to create a family motto to accompany your mission statement. Or maybe you would rather just use a motto as a short and simple mission statement. This week we will discuss how to make a family motto.
A motto is an abbreviated expression of a guiding principle. A slogan is an attention-getting phrase stating a position or representing a goal to achieve. These words are often used interchangeably. Either one can be a clever reminder of what is important in life. It may be a single word ("Nature"), a phrase ("Nature and Harmony"), or a complete sentence ("Live in Harmony with Nature"). Most mottoes are serious thoughts of faith or advice, but some are humorous statements to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. A family motto is generally a broadly worded religious/philosophical sentiment that is widely shared by the family members.
Keep in mind that a motto can lead you toward worthwhile choices or away from them. Each day your children are bombarded with slogans and images promoting money, status, and acquiring things. They see and hear - loud and clear - advertising jingles on commercials, slogans on billboards, mottoes on bumper stickers and T-shirts: "Just do it." "Have it your way." "Quality is #1." "Reach out and touch someone." "May the force be with you." "You deserve a break today."
Think about it, are your kids being influenced more by these hollow idols and "false gods" rather than spending their time and energy becoming what God created them to be? Are they wearing clothes covered with marketing logos subconsciously promoting vanity, superficiality, materialism, and selfishness? A young person's behavior is determined by deeply held convictions and beliefs. If their soul is not filled with noble sentiments and virtues, it will be filled with something else. So wouldn't it be better for your children to memorize a meaningful motto incorporating wise advice that they can personally relate to and strive to live by?
While your actions demonstrate what you believe, your children need to hear it in words as well. A family motto helps young children feel the security of belonging to a strong family. A family motto promotes a proper code of behavior. Recite your family motto during everyday routines - such as at dinner time and in the morning before heading off to school - and remind children of it when conflict arises. Family members should try to measure their actions against the motto, to challenge themselves to live up to their life's message. Think of it as a family anthem.
When choosing a motto, consider the following questions: What is the meaning of life? Why did God put us here? What message do we want to convey to others about what is important in life? What is success? What brings true happiness? For example, if your family prides itself on perseverance, you can spend an evening together brainstorming mottoes like "Don't quit," "Never give up," "Quitters never win," and "Try, try again." A motto should be brief, but not ambiguous.
Write your family's motto on an index card for each child to keep. Have the kids make the motto into a sign to hang on their bedroom wall. Stick your motto up on the refrigerator, inscribe it on a plaque by the front door, write it on personalized stationery, make a bumper sticker out of it, have it printed or embroidered on matching t-shirts or baseball caps for the whole family. Remember, if you don't instruct your kids about their purpose in life, the ad agencies will be happy to.
The History of Mottoes
The origins of the family motto can be traced back to the early days of swords and shields. It is thought that mottoes or slogans originally derived from ancient war cries. (Slogan derives from the Gaelic word "slogorn," which means army cry.)
A war cry was a shouted word or phrase that leaders of warriors would use in battle. Many times they were rallying cries to inspire the troops or to give commands and directions (such as "Forward!"). Others were religious invocations, encouraging cheers, fierce yells intended to strike fear in the opponent, or loud insults directed toward the enemy.
Clans or troops would often adopt a specific slogan to shout as they went into battle and these cries would become associated with them. (The motto of the French Revolution was "Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!") Sometimes they would simply be a family name repeated over and over.
Men in armor all looked alike, so each knight would choose an identifying symbol and color for his shield. A son would wear a similar coat of arms as his father, with a small change in the design. Men called heralds kept records of the designs and their owners - the practice of heraldry.
By the 15th century, it was fashionable to have a slogan or motto as well as a badge or coat of arms. In medieval times, a motto was a word, short phrase or sentence placed on the shield or coat of arms. The motto was usually in Latin or the bearer's native language. While you don't need a coat of arms to adopt a motto, you can have fun designing your own family shield, too!
Did You Know ? You may have seen companies selling coats of arms with a history of the family name associated with it. However, these coats of arms are meaningless because there is no such thing as a coat of arms for your family name, since arms were granted to individuals, not to families or names. (But you may be entitled to bear a version of the arms of an ancestor if you can prove your relationship to the original bearer.)
U.S. National Mottoes: "E pluribus unum" ("One from many") and "In God we Trust."
Arizona State Motto: "Ditat Deus." ("God enriches")
Three Musketeers Motto: "All for one and one for all."
Julius Caesar's Motto: "Veni, vedi, veci." ("I came, I saw, I conquered")
George Washington's Motto: "Exitus acta probat." ("The end proves actions")
Thomas Jefferson's Motto: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."
Frank Lloyd Wright's Family Motto: "Truth is Life."
Henry Ford's Motto: "Find a way or make one."
Randolph Caldecott Family Motto: "In Utrumque Paratus" ("In either situation Ready")
Trivia Question: Whose family motto is "Non Sufficit Orbis"? (see answer at end of article)
Having a Family Motto: August 1922, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (From Little House in the Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings)
Naming the home place is an old, old custom, but the people who lived at such places used to have a family motto, also. Families as well as farms have distinguishing traits of character, and there are always some of these on which a family prides itself. Only the other day I heard a man say, "My father's word was as good as his note, and he brought us children up that way."
Why not have a family motto expressing something for which we, as a family, stand?
Such a motto would be a help in keeping the family up to standard by giving the members a cause for pride in it and what it represents; it might even be a help in raising the standard of family life and honor.
If the motto of a family were, "My word is my bond," do you not think the children of that family would be proud to keep their word and feel disgraced if they failed to do so?
Suppose the motto were, "Ever ready," would not the members of that family try to be on the alert for whatever came?
Perhaps it would be possible to cure a family weakness by choosing a motto representing its opposite as an ideal for the family to strive toward. We might keep our choice a family secret until we have proven ourselves and could face the world upon it.
Though in these days we would not put the motto upon our shield as did the knights of old, we could use it in many ways. If carried only in our hearts, it would draw the family closer together.
Handbook of Mottoes, by Charles Elvin. (Originally published in 1860, these mottoes were collected from county histories, plaques in churches, bookplates, carriages, and other sources.)
Coat of Arms, by Catherine Daly-Weir. (A wonderful educational book with beautiful illustrations. Make your own coat of arms using the stencils which are included in the book.)
Design Your Own Coat of Arms: An Introduction to Heraldry, by Rosemary A. Chorzempa. (Learn heraldic terminology while following step-by-step instructions to make the shape of a shield and its divisions; as well as choosing the right colors, mottoes, and how to select symbols that reflect personal origins, traits and achievements. Includes sample coats of arms belonging to some of the world's most famous people, corporations, and nations.)
Heraldry: A Pictorial Archive for Artists and Designers, by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies. (A wealth of copyright-free heraldic images provides lots of ideas for family emblems.)
Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them, by Hans Biedermann. (Explore the rich and varied meanings of more than 2,000 symbols in this encyclopedic work which delves into the worlds of mythology, fairy tales, religion, literature, history, and archaeology to reveal the unique meanings of each symbol and their related mottoes.)
www2.kumc.edu/itc/staff/rknight/motto.htm (Origins and history of the motto and its affiliation with heraldry; includes a list of hundreds of mottos in both Latin and English.)
www.geocities.com/von56.geo/lineageGW.html (George Washington's coat of arms and motto.)
www.familytabletime.com/whatyouget_family_mission_statement.htm (Create your family mission statement, along with your family's "coat of arms," in a fun family table time activity.)
(Trivia Answer: James Bond - the motto translates to "The World is Not Enough.")
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