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Highway Taglines

When driving down the road, we see all sorts of signs, symbols, and phrases that pass by without being noticed. A license plate is traditionally a meaningless series of letters and numbers that mean nothing to the average driver. Such a mundane idea only stands out on rare occasions.

Personalized license plates, also known as vanity plates, have developed an increasing presence in the parking lots of South. Vanity plates can be ordered to read almost anything, and many have specific ties to the driver of their vehicle.

South senior Ewan Frick’s license plate reads “U-WIN.” This expression was born from the phonetic pronunciation of his first name. Frick explained that his name has given people trouble for many years.

“Whenever I try to explain how to say it, I always say ‘you win,’ as in ‘you win a game.’ When it came time to drive a car, I had been using this for a while and kind of claimed it as my own, so I just decided to make it my license plate,” he said.

In a similar fashion, junior Stephen Quattlebaum’s license plate makes note of a memorable surname. His vanity plate says “QBAUM,” an abbreviation of his last name. The plate has been a hit with those who’ve seen it.

“Everyone loves it. If I’m out in public and people see a bright purple car with ‘QBAUM’ on it, they immediately think it’s me,” Quattlebaum says.

Joey Ford, senior, has also found an ironic modification of his name for his plate: “JOE4D.” Ford explained how his license plate is its own sort of family tradition.

“My sister’s name is Katie, so she has ‘K8E4D,’ and then my dad’s license plate says ‘MULES,’ because his alma mater is CMSU, or now UCM,” he said.

Many plates extend beyond the names of their drivers. Some vanity license plates have a personal story attached. Spanish teacher Mary Dickson has a plate symbolizing a favorite saying.

“My license plate is “PRA VDA,” and it stands for ‘pura vida,’ in Spanish, which is a saying in Costa Rica,” she said.

She says that personalized plates can cause some misconceptions.

“[I’ve had] very weird [conversations] because ‘pravada’ is a communist newspaper,” she said.

Despite their widespread usage, the process of acquiring personalized license plates is not widely known. Dickson explains how it is done.

“You have to submit an application with your top three choices… and the Missouri Department of Motor Vehicles approves or denies,” she said.

Vanity license plates have become a unique and memorable method of self expression that a wide range of drivers can embrace.