The History Behind Greek Letters

The names of North American fraternities and sororities generally consist of two or three Greek letters, often the initials of a Greek motto, which may be secret. For example: Phi Beta Kappa (Society), from phi (φ) + beta (β) + kappa (κ), initials of the society’s Greek motto, “φιλοσοφια βιου κυβερνητης” (philosophia biou kybernētēs), meaning “philosophy is the guide of life”.

The use of Greek letters started with Phi Beta Kappa, then a social fraternity and today an honor society, at the College of William & Mary. Several groups, however, do not use Greek letters.. Alpha Epsilon Pi uses Greek letters for its North American chapters but Hebrew letters for its Israeli chapters, with the Herzliya IDC chapter designated “Aleph”, and the Hebrew University chapter “Bet”.

The tradition of wearing Greek letters has been passed down for decades. By proudly displaying your letters across your chest you are identifying yourself as part of an exclusive community – the Greeks. It has become an honor, and a privilege, to be able to wear letters across campuses nationwide.

Some chapters have restrictions on who can wear these letters. Some chapters allow pledges to wear the Tackle Twill or “double applique” letters, while others do not and keep this as an honor for initiated members only. This right is unique to each chapter, and varies across campuses.

Members are also expected to behave honorably while wearing letters, as they are representing their organization in public. How you carry yourself in your fraternity and sorority apparel reflects on your chapter, and should not be taken lightly.

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