It is said that state mottoes reflect the character and beliefs of the citizens of that state; or, at least it did when the motto was adopted. A state motto is typically a phrase or sentence that showcases a state’s ideals, its unifying beliefs, or its goals. All U.S. states have at least one motto, and some states have more than one! Although official state mottoes are a matter of law (passed by a legislative body), unofficial mottoes are sometimes on the state seal. It’s not unusual for mottoes to provide insight into a state’s history. Many state mottoes are from other languages such as Latin and Greek, or even French, Italian and Native American languages.
In Texas, there are a variety of short phrases or sentences that might be mistaken for our motto such as:
Come and Take It.
Remember the Alamo.
Don’t Mess with Texas.
While these phrases are popular and adorn t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and even highway signs, the Texas state motto was adopted in February 1930 by the Forty-first Texas Legislature and is simply one word: “Friendship.” It is widely acknowledged that the motto comes from the Native American word that was adopted as the name of our state.
According to the Handbook of Texas Online:
The word Friendship . . . was probably chosen because the name Texas or Tejas was the Spanish pronunciation of a Caddo Indian word sometimes translated to mean “friends” or “allies.”
The word texas (tejas, tayshas, texias, thecas?, techan, teysas, techas?) had wide usage among the Indians of East Texas even before the coming of the Spanish, whose various transcriptions and interpretations gave rise to many theories about the meaning. The usual meaning was “friends,” although the Hasinais applied the word to many groups—including Caddoan—to mean “allies.” The Hasinais probably did not apply the name to themselves as a local group name; they did use the term, however, as a form of greeting: “Hello, friend.” . . . Whatever the Spanish denotations of the name Texas, the state motto, “Friendship,” carries the original meaning of the word as used by the Hasinai and their allied tribes, and the name of the state apparently was derived from the same source.
As for those other statements, “come and take it” and “remember the Alamo” are battle cries with deeply rooted meanings for Texans past and present. They remind us of the defiance and bravery exhibited during the struggle for Texas independence. (Although it’s interesting to note that “Remember the Alamo” was the motto of the Republic of Texas.) “Drive Friendly” (aka “Drive Friendly – the Texas Way”) was adopted in 1973 as the state’s official slogan for traffic safety. “Don’t Mess with Texas” is the trademarked slogan for an anti-littering campaign originally launched in 1985 by the Texas Department of Transportation. While both statements are recognized as great advertising slogans, they appeal to that intangible but very real quality of Texas pride. And Texans are mighty proud to embrace friendship and be known world-wide as friendly.