Rewriting the Family Motto

We’re going with the Beastie Boys. In Latin.

Jim Nolan
3 min readJun 14, 2023

Growing up, I didn’t know we had a family motto. So I was pretty much on my own, guidance-from-ancestors-wise.

“You Have to Fight for Your Right to Party” may have best encapsulated my own thinking. In Latin, to add it gravitas, that’s VOS HAVE UT PRO IUS FACTIONIS. At least that’s what Google says. For some reason, family mottos are put in all caps, as if prior generations are shouting at us, urging us to LISTEN UP, goddammit.

Imagine my surprise upon recently learning that I have not one, but two family mottos. On my mother’s German side, it’s FORTES FORTUNA ADJUVAT, or “Fortune helps the strong.” No duh.

Sheep? Helmet? Tree people? The family Coat of Arms.

Can there be a less helpful motto? It’s like saying, “wear a warm sweater when you go out on a cold day.” Everyone knows it, and no one wants to hear it. And in the Coat of Arms, what’s with the folks at the bottom who look like tree people or those giant inflatable dancing tube men you see at automobile dealerships? One thing’s for sure. It’s too weird to be inauthentic.

On my dad’s Irish side, it’s COR UNUM VIA UNA, or “One heart, one way,” from Jeremiah 32:38–40. The longer passage, the word of God, says, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever.” Well! What an appealing choice of mottos! Doesn’t sound like it’s going to lead to healthy relationships down through the years.

“Fear,” however, does seem like a pretty good watchword for the family. My great-grandfather Gilbert Curry was struck and killed by lightning in 1899, demonstrating to his descendants the real possibility of imminent annihilation. My son George and I have long thought “Eternal Vigilance” (VIGILANTIA AETERN) would be the perfect motto for us. We’re always looking up, even on a cloudless day.

Frankly, I’m a little skeptical about the provenance of the Irish motto. I found it on a box of “Heraldic Coasters—NOLAN” my parents bought in Dublin.

Again with the helmet.

I suspect items with “heraldry” are created to sell trinkets to gullible Americans visiting the Old Sod, who would like to discover that they are, if not of royal blood, at least from the gentry. Wikipedia says that “Nolan” is derived from the Irish word “nuall, meaning ‘noble, famous’.” I like that! And it’s noble comma famous, so we’re both! How many of those coasters can I buy? Everybody’s getting them for Christmas.

I also question the authenticity of the NOLAN Coat of Arms itself. I’m guessing it’s not much different from MURPHY or QUINN, slapped together by some overworked designer in Cork: “They like swords, put more swords in there. Must have a lion, lions sell. And a medieval helmet, the Americans love that. Now throw some birds in there, they sell better than sheep.”

The helmet from the suit of armor is intriguing, I must admit. It’s in both the German and Irish heralds, no doubt symbolizing our former days as knights, I can only hope, Knights in White Satin, as the Moody Blues song “Nights in White Satin” is often misheard. That’s the Coat of Arms for my family I’d really like to see. A knight in a suit of armor, draped in shimmering white satin. Maybe riding a lion, piggyback.

Boldly emblazoned underneath: VOS HAVE UT PRO IUS FACTIONIS.

Future Nolans will surely appreciate the update.



Jim Nolan

Jim’s humor writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Funny Times,, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, and on WBFO public radio.