What Does Semper Fi Mean?


Semper Fi is short for Semper Fidelis and is currently most famous for being the motto of the The United States of America Marine Corps. It is Latin for always faithful, or always loyal. It is also used as mottos for towns, families, schools, and military units.

The phrase first showed1 up as a motto in 1369, in the French town of Abbeville. Records show that it has been the motto for certain European families since the 16th century, although many believe that the motto has been with families since the 13th century.

It is very common amongst families in France, Ireland, and England.

It was used in south-western England in 1685 by the Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment of Foot who first used the motto for military purposes.

This may have led to its use as the moot for the city of Exeter, which has been using Semper Fidelis since 1660 or earlier. Since then many military organizations have used it as their motto.

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Semper Fidelis and the US Marines

Currently the US Marines may be the most famous users of this motto. To them it speaks to Marine Pride, and means always be faithful to God, Country, Family, and the Marine Corps.

It signifies the commitment that they are expected to have, not only while they are enlisted, but beyond. The phrase is also the title to the Marine Corps official march, which was composed in 1889 by John Philip.

It is also featured on the on the branch’s seal, which is  the symbols of an eagle, globe, and anchor, and a ribbon that says Semper Fidelis.

It was adopted by the Marines in 1883 by the 8th Commandant , Charles McCawley. The Corps had three previous mottos; fortitudine (with courage), per, terran (by sea, by land), and to the shores of Tripoli.

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Families who use Semper Fidelis

A list of families in Great Britain and Ireland who use the motto of Semper Fidelis in their coat of arms was compiled in 1884 by Bernard Burke. Here are some highlights from that list.

The Edge Family of England- the Edge family is from Strelley, Nottinghamshire and have use the motto since 1814. The coat of arms is granted to them and 1709 but the motto was not recorded with the initial grant.

Frith Family of Ireland – John Frith was a Protestant martyr and may have used the motto as early as the 16th century. The family settled in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh after his execution, and they are famous for fighting in the Battle of the Boyle.

Lynch Family of Ireland- they were one of the tribes of Galloway, who were 14 merchant families who dominated the political commercial and social scene of the city of Galloway in Western Ireland between the 13th and 16th centuries.

The members of these tribes are considered old English gentry.

The Lynch’s were descendants of William Le Petit,  the Norman knight who settled in Ireland after the Grant of Ireland was a fiefdom by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II of England in the early 12th-century.

Semper Fidelis appeared on the Lynch family coat of arms around 1820, but it was most likely used in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Molten Family of South Africa
Semper Fidelis has been recorded on their family coat of arms and is held of the archives of the University of Cape Town.

Onslow Family of England
This is the family of the Earls of Onslow and they have used the motto since at least 1832 although they have an alternative motto, Festina Lente,  which is better known.

Stewart Family of Scotland
The family goes back to an illegitimate son of James II of Scotland and the motto was recorded by Burke and Robson however the date of its first use is unknown.

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Cities who use Semper Fidelis

Abbeville, France
Has been using Semper Fidelis sine 1369. The city was given the motto by Charles IV by letters patent on June 19, 1369.

This makes it the first city to record the motto. According to the city‘s website the motto was not part of Charles IV’s original grant, but was added between the 14th to 17th century.

The motto was given to the city by Pope Alexander VII, as recognition in the key role is played and offending Europe and Roman Catholicism from Muslim invasion.

However, today the motto is referenced mainly in connection with the Polish Ukrainian war of 1919 following the collapse of Austria- Hungary after World War I.

It is also connected to the Polish Bolshevik war that followed. In Ukraine the phrase is used less and refers to the survival of the Ukrainian church through the period of the Soviet persecution.

Exeter, England
The motto has been used since 1660 when it was in a manuscript by the local chronicler Richard Izacke. According to Izacke the motto was adopted in 1588 to signify the cities loyalty to the crown.

It was Elizabeth I who suggested that the town adopt the motto, in a letter call the Citizens of Exeter in recognition of their gift of money towards the fleet that helps defeat the Spanish Armada.  

However Records of this letter do not exist and this story may be a legend.

May have been in use for 509 years.

White Plains, New York
Is currently the motto of this New York city.

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Military Units who use Semper Fidelis

Regiments from southwestern England’s have been using the otto since 1685.

Duke of Beaufort’s  regiment of foot use the motto from 1685, which was the designated regiment for N. Devonshire.

The first rifle volunteer corps of Exeter and South Devin have been using the motto since 1852. The motto was continued by the Devonshire regiment of the British Army.

The Devonshire and Dorset regiment have been using it since 1958. The matter was continued on the badges of the Devonshire and Dorothy regiment when the Devonshires were amalgamated into the regimen.

The Irish Parade of France use it from 1690 to 1792. They were formed as part of the treaty which ended the war between Ireland and Britain.

Cadet Corps of the Royal Military Academy have use the motto since 1828.

The 11th infantry Regiment and the United States Army have you used it since 1861.

It was first used as part of the Army of Ohio and the Spanish American War, and the Mexican Border War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Today this regimen trains young army officers at Fort Benning in Georgia.

The West Nova Scotia regiment has used it since 1937, they inherited it from the  Lunenburg regiment which used it since 1870.

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