Town mottos used to be simple. Paint a cute slogan on a sign and hope it makes an impression on those driving through.

Some towns point out their attributes. Damariscotta is “The prettiest village in Maine.” Ogunquit is “A beautiful place by the sea.”

Some, like Belgrade, which spreads them around to make sure one sticks, go for bright, if a little bland. Those driving north on Route 27 are greeted by “Where memories last a lifetime.” In the heart of Belgrade Lakes village, the sign declares “A town for four seasons.”

One of the best mottos that doesn’t say anything is Henniker, N.H.: “The only Henniker on earth.” Unlike Damariscotta’s, it’s hard to argue with.

You can almost picture the old timey Hennikerites of the colonial days sitting around a scratched wooden tavern table, hefting their flagons of ale and toasting a darn good motto.

But the whole motto thing has changed since then.

Manchester Town Meeting voters found that out last week when they tried to pick a new one.

Presented with five options picked out of more than 70 submissions, including the old one, they stuck with what they had.

“Manchester: The way life is” was originally chosen by Mark Doyon, town manager at the time, when the town needed something for its new website in 2010.

When Manchester last month announced it was looking for a new motto, Selectmen Chairman Jeremy Pare said “we’re trying to confirm what Manchester wants to be known as.”

The options, besides the one chosen, were “A great place to live,” “Where our history contributes to our future,” “A small town with a big heart” and “A place to grow.”

It’s hard to say if the final choice is good or bad. A play on Maine’s motto “The way life should be,” it works if you get that part.

On the other hand, a motto shouldn’t require a lot of brainwork by its target and if you really start thinking about “the way life is,” depending on how your life is it may not work at all.

When the Franklin County peaks region decided to “rebrand” — in other words, pick a motto with bells and whistles — area business and community leaders brought a New York City “destination branding” consultant on board and spent two months discussing it.

The result? “Maine High Peaks: Discover an elevated sense of living.” The effort was more than just a motto, of course, it also involves a logo and a mission for the area. The bottom line is, in a global information era, one of the most beautiful areas in the country has to be sure people know Maine is more than just lighthouses and lobsters.

The consultant, Jim Cox, said that, according to a Morning Sentinel article, the purpose of branding is to proactively market the region instead of letting impressions form naturally and that the brand is the umbrella under which leaders should make decisions and shape their image.

Wow. Mottos are hard.

Augusta took a stab at that, too, with a little less glitz than the Franklin County group.

While it ought to be enough to be the capital city, it’s not.

The city’s website, in a message signed by Mayor Bill Stokes, says “Those of us who live here are proud of our history and optimistic about our future. We are ‘Maine’s Capital City,’ but so much more, as well. With a new state of the art high school, world class cancer care center, and the exciting redevelopment of our riverfront and downtown, we think Augusta is one of our country’s most special places…If you are ‘from away,’ pay us a visit and we think you will appreciate Augusta — ‘A Capital Opportunity,’ ”

Grammarians and those who maybe think too much about this type of thing may be bothered by the fact that Maine’s Capital City is in quotation marks in the website passage — is it not really Maine’s Capital City? Is it so insecure it has to qualify that designation?

Others may focus on the wordplay. There’s so much that can be done with capital and while this motto makes its point it just seems, well, kind of dull.

To seal the deal, the logo is “Augusta!” So, instead of just thinking “Augusta.” those looking at the site will think Augusta! Yes! I’m excited!

A state capital shouldn’t have to try so hard to sell itself.

Augusta’s a beautiful city, nestled in a tree-filled river valley that slopes down to the Kennebec River, with a unique and striking downtown. Its streets are lined with centuries-old homes and the view of the capitol dome, even with the scaffolding, can be breathtaking.

But to most of the state, Augusta means politics. And to those who think beyond that, it means a downtown with few stores, bumpy Mount Vernon Avenue, strip-malled Western Avenue and, of course, the rotaries.

The website suggests Augusta’s motto: “Augusta, where politics and traffic both go in circles.”

So true. But mottos aren’t about fun and games.

And that’s what put the people of Manchester in such a pickle.

What comes to mind about Manchester for those who don’t live there? “We’re next to Hallowell.” “Home of the Augusta Country Club.” “Isn’t that where we pick apples?”

While those are what Manchester may be known as to those who don’t live there, it’s not what the town wants to be known as — to quote Pare — by those who do live there.

So maybe “Manchester: The way life is” does work.

And anyway, “Next door to A Capital Opportunity” just doesn’t have the same ring.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected]. Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: