Pennsylvania issued the first vanity, or personalized license plates, in 1931. I’ve been writing down interesting vanity license plates since a friend of mine started me on the hobby more than ten years ago.
Virginia has more vanity license plates, as a percentage of vehicles registered, than any other state (16.9%), according to a 2007 survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, so the roads are rich with opportunities to try to figure them out.
There are 9.7 million vehicles with personalized plates, 3.8% of those vehicles eligible for the plates. The states earn revenue from the extra charges for the plates. Every state, and the District of Columbia, issue vanity plates. All review applications, and deny those with offensive words, or an attempt to be confused with a government vehicle, like NYPD.
States have different rules about how many characters are allowed. Virginia, as do most states, allows seven, plus a hyphen or space. North Carolina and New York allow eight characters. Texas and Rhode Island allow six.
Fees range from Virginia’s low of $10 a year, to Illinois’s high of $94, with most in the $20 to $35 range. The www.dmv.org site gives you an overview of all the states. Note: This is not a government DMV site, but it directs you to the appropriate state DMV site for ordering plates.
I eventually started categorizing the ones I had collected. The most common are for sports teams. We’re the home of the Washington Redskins, so Redskins-related plates are common:
Another common category, both because many politicians from other states live here, and because people want to remember their home, is for various states:
CU N LA
And, finally, a big category is about family:
WYF & KDS
TWNZ & I
One local enthusiast, who has been collecting license plates since 1996, has posted them on his web site, with explanations about what they mean.
Another, an author, has written about a number of fun car games you can play with license plates. The Way Cool License Plate Book, by Leonard Wise
Several authors have written books that include personal stories about why car owners picked the license plates they did.
- What Does That Mean? The Personal Stories Behind Vanity License Plates, by Dennis Cowhey
- The Maine Plate: Maine Vanity License Plates and Their Meanings, by Holly Sherburne
- License to Roam: Vanity License Plates and the GR8 Stories They Tell, by Stefan Lonce
If you want to create your own, eHow.com gets you started with some fun personalized license plate ideas, including suggestions for license plates for teachers.
There is even a poster spelling out the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, with license plates The original board with the license plates on it is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.
An English teacher I know invited her students to make up their own personalized plate. What would yours be? What is the best one you’ve ever seen?
- 20 Hilarious Vanity License Plates (huffingtonpost.com)
- Vanity Plates: The 411 on Those CRZE PL8S (Edmunds.com)