Mine Says “Usuthu,” What Does Yours Say?

We Virginians haven’t been known as social trend-setters since the 1700s, so it is exciting to discover that we actually lead the nation in a cultural phenomenon — even one as humble and meaningless as personalized license plates. Virginia, it turns out, issues more personalized plates than any other state in the country, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Adminstrators. The Old Dominion accounts for one out of every 10 such plates in the country.

Ion Bogdan Vasi, an assistant sociology professor at Columbia University, calls those who personalize their plates “the narcissistic/materialist poets of the iGeneration,” reports Dena Potter in the Times-Dispatch.

Huh? I don’t know how many narcissists we have in Virginia. That sounds more like California. To my mind, most drivers with special plates are just corny punsters… or college sports enthusiasts. It tickles me to see how many inventive variations there are on UVA, Wahoo, Tech and Hokie.

Occasionally, license plates have a story to tell.

My license plate says “Usuthu.” In 1964, Hollywood produced a movie entitled “Zulu,” starring a young and dashing Michael Caine. The film recounted the battle of Rorke’s Drift in which a Zulu impi, fresh on the heels of smashing an English column at Islandhwana (the greatest defeat in history of a European army by an African army, armed mainly with rawhide shields and stabbing spears). A small garrison of troops at the Rorke’s Drift mission was the only force that stood between the rampaging Zulus and the defenseless English farmers in Natal province.

In the movie, the Zulu warriors encircled the English and stood just beyond rifle range. They started rhythmically pounding their shields with their assegais and chanting, “U-su-thu… U-su-thu…” the name of the Zulu royal house. The effect was electrifying. It was one of the great moments in cinematic history.

(As an aside, “Zulu” was typical of Hollywood movies of the distant past, in which the Europeans got all the good parts and the Africans and other indigenous peoples were treated as faceless barbarians. By the time “Zulu Dawn” came along in 1979, Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole had to share a little face time with the Zulu characters. And in that battle, Islandhwana, the Zulus kicked white butt — a first for Hollywood! The fascination with Zulus culminated in 1986 with the production of “Shaka Zulu,” a mini-series about Shaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, in which white people played only a truly secondary role.)

So, what’s your personalized license plate, and what’s the story behind it?

(Hat tip: Larry Gross. Photo credit: Virginia Tech… which claims to rank No. 1 in the country for college/university vanity license plates.)

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18 responses to “Mine Says “Usuthu,” What Does Yours Say?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    So, when people who don’t agree with what you write, stand just beyond range and chant “U Su Thu” is that the greatest moment in Blog history?

    Br 549

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    My two favorites are KPMGSN, which I finally translated through my congestion induced stupor as “Keep ’em Guessin”.

    And the other was a License plate on a Renault (remember those?) that just said “John W.

    You guessed it: it was John W. Le Car.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh yeah, and the other true Yankee in the State whose license plate read VINYAHD.


  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    That’s right BR 549, I’m going to Usuthu you, baby. Watch out!

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I noticed the PC changes in the Zulu movies over time as well. There was also an educational channel special on the topic recently.

  6. Hshues – a reference to http://horseshues.com = where I blog about the transition of a normal suburban family being dragged into the horse world by our daughter.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    The economic crisis in Zimbabwe is having a severe impact on its neighbour, South Africa. An estimated three million Zimbabweans are thought to have fled to South Africa to escape the chaos and they continue to flood across the border at Beit Bridge.

    It is thought that about 1,000 Zimbabweans are being arrested in South Africa every day and sent home, but as many as 3,000 a day may be coming into the country.


    enjoy your white middle class life.

  8. And now, the big picture:

    “But why does Virginia have so many personalized plates?

    “It’s only $10. You can do it online with little effort. You can get a new one every month if you wanted to,” said Benjamin Mace, a Virginia Beach Web designer who started CoolPl8z.com, where people post pictures of their vanity plates.”.

    It’s cheap.

    It’s easy.

    It’s online.

    It works.

    Now, if we could just get the rest of VA government to follow suit.

    Anon 9:52 – I have reserved your vanity plate online. It is, “MSDTPNT”.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    that was my thought also.

    I don’t think Virginians are any more vain than anyone else.. and certainly not Californians! 🙂

    but DMV proved that if you provide a super easy way to buy something – people will … even if it lacks inherent (fungible) value.

    In this world.. where we all argue about what something is “worth”, I’m one of these guys who cannot imagine forking over real money for the honor of letters on a plate.

    but then again.. I’m one of these guys that thinks forking over money for worthless junk with one’s college logo on it is similarily decadent.

    and don’t bother to ask me about all these ribbons and flags that folks are spending money to crap up their cars with.

    Just think.. if each of those folks spent that money on a compact flourescent instead or into savings to buy more efficient bigger environmental widgets.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ok I give up… what is MSDTPNT ?

  11. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Here’s my guess: Missed the point.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t think we should be making policy over how other people spend their money, whatever we think about it.

  13. E M Risse Avatar

    OK, I will bite:

    Our current vehicle plates are TRILO-G.

    No secret about what that stands. The story is that we changed the working title for our book from TRILOGY to TRILO-G because the former was not avaliable as a VA plate.

    We left DMV (no we have an office right in town and did not have to go on line) when we could not get TRILOGY but upon further review decided that not having a book title that others would use would be a good idea.

    There are a lot of other “The Shape of the Futures” out there, including a blog by a planner in Chesterfield County that is not often updated.

    We also admit to being contributors over the years to the one in ten.

    Linda’s current plate is LTR EMR. In the past our vehicles have had plates such as EMR II, EMR Too, EMR Two, EMR LTR, SYN INC, SHAPFTR and others.

    None are hard to figure out and none have movie ties. (We have always been adverse to paying for Hollywood entertainment.)


  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Do you have a problem with paying entertainers, or just Hollywood entertainers?


  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “Just think.. if each of those folks spent that money on a compact flourescent instead or into savings to buy more efficient bigger environmental widgets.”

    I have a real problem with this line of thinking. It is as if anything that does anything that doesn’t somehow remotely save you money is costing you money. Since we all live in the envrionment, anyone who doesn’t do everything for the environment is costing you money.

    Sure enough, this is true, at some level. Where do we draw the line between claiming an environemental right over everything everyone else does, and minding our own business. Between slapping a righteousness tax on everyone else, while we claim the higher moral ground, primarily based on unquantifiables.

    This line of thinking is becoming more prevalent.

    Today there was a story about companies firing or fining employees who smoke because they cause the rates to go up for everyone.

    If you go out for lunch with three friends and one of them has three Martinis, you might object to splitting the bill. What if ten people go out and three people have one Martini each?

    Where do you draw the line between not being taken and being a whining spoilsport, just because you don’t drink? Between looking out for yourself and becoming an outright socialist?


  16. MSDTPNT = Missed The Point

  17. Also, mine says YHR 1834

    I decided to keep the $10 in my pocket.

  18. E M Risse Avatar


    You cannot fool us. YHR 1834 is “Year of Harvet Reaper 1834.”

    McCormick’s invention vastly reduced the labor needed for grain production and thus accelerated the Industrial Revolution in the US of A.

    You lucked out and saved $10.


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