Vertebrate motoneurons show considerable diversity in their soma locations, axonal trajectories and innervation targets. Results from studies of a variety of vertebrate species as well as fruit-flies are elucidating the mechanisms by which this diversity is generated. Motoneuron subpopulations appear to be defined by combinations of transcription factor genes expressed in distinct spatiotemporal patterns in both motoneuron progenitors and postmitotic motoneurons. Notochord-derived signals can induce motoneuron formation, paraxial-mesoderm-derived signals can pattern motoneuron subpopulations along the rostrocaudal body axis, and local signals within the neural tube can regulate the number and time at which motoneurons form. Additional, later signals can promote formation of proper central circuitry and motoneuron survival. The identification of the genes and signals responsible for regulating these processes should help to provide a more-detailed understanding of motoneuron patterning.