What’s your family motto? June 16, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: A song of Ice and Fire, creating your family motto, Game of Thrones, George RR Martin, House Lannister, House Stark, House Targaryen, mottos, sigils
In the TV series “Game of Thrones” and the books it was based on, George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, the great noble Houses of Westeros all have mottos. House Stark’s motto is “Winter Is Coming.” House Lannister has an official motto, “Hear Me Roar,” and an unofficial but equally well-known one, “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts.” House Greyjoy’s ferocious raiding (Viking*) nature is expressed in its official motto, “We Do Not Sow,” and its suitably bleak unofficial motto is “What Is Dead May Never Die.” House Tully’s motto is more noble: “Family, Duty, Honor,” and the allied House Arryn has a similar motto, referencing their keep, The Eyrie’s, high perch, “As High as Honor.” The motto of House Martell of Dorne is “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken;” that of House Targaryen is “Fire and Blood.” And the motto of the royal house, House Baratheon, is “Ours Is the Fury.”
This practice is based in mediaeval history, when the royal and noble houses of Europe all had mottos. The most famous of all is probably King Edward III’s motto for the Order of the Garter, which he founded in 1348: “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.” (I learned this as “Evil to him who evil thinks of it,” but the preferred translation from the Middle French is “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”)
Why a French motto for an English chivalric order? England’s nobility may have actually managed to learn some English after nearly 300 years of English rule since William the Conqueror of Normandy cleaned the battlefield of Hastings with poor Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson’s blood. But the official language of the court was still French, and the English monarchs still laid claim to the French throne, and continued to do so through the infamous and tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. (For all our friend Ben knows, they may have continued to lay claim to the throne of France until the Hanoverians, the German family from which Queen Elizabeth II descends, assumed the throne, but a little thing called the Spanish Armada sort of shifted their focus from France to Spain.)
Think about it: Wouldn’t you like a motto for your “house” (aka family, lineage)? Unless you’re descended from nobility, chances are that you’ll have to create your own. Like the great Houses in Westeros, you’ll want it to either express the traits that characterize your family and its situation or the aspirations it has to honor and glory. Many of the Westerosi Houses base their mottos on their House sigil, typically but not always an animal (the lion of House Lannister, for example, or the dragons of House Targaryen), their location (House Stark were once kings of the North, and House Arryn’s keep, The Eyrie, is indeed perched on a treacherously high peak), or their history (Dorne was the only kingdom in Westeros that was able to resist the Targaryen invasion, thus, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”).
So, how to proceed? You need something catchy, short, and memorable. “Mine Is the Endless Slog at the Corporation While My Brilliance Is Unrecognized and My Idiot Boss Humiliates Me and Takes Credit for My Ideas” might be worthy of Dilbert (and many of us), but it’s just not going to make it as a family motto. By contrast, “Follow Me” might be appropriate for Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame. The Knights Templar’s motto was “Do Your Duty, Come What May,” probably not too popular in today’s “One for All and All for Me” world. I’d suggest thinking about what matters to you and your family, then write it down, then condense it to something catchy and memorable.
The catchphrase of the Red Priestess Melisandre in “Game of Thrones” is “The night is dark and full of terrors.” I think, for our friend Ben and Silence Dogood here at Hawk’s Haven, our motto might be “The world is wide and full of wonders.” And our sigil would be a huge black German shepherd (our beloved Shiloh) with a red-tailed hawk (our totem) soaring above her.
What would you choose?
* Ironically, in the growing season, the Vikings were all farmers. They only took to raiding once the crops were harvested, unlike the Ironborn of “Game of Thrones,” who fished from their stony island and raided for every other item that sustained life.