A core principle of nervous system organization is the diversification of neuron classes into subclasses that share large sets of features but differ in select traits. We describe here a molecular mechanism necessary for motor neurons to acquire subclass-specific traits in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Cholinergic motor neuron classes of the ventral nerve cord can be subdivided into subclasses al ong the anterior-posterior (A-P) axis based on synaptic connectivity patterns and molecular features. The conserved COE-type terminal selector UNC-3 not only controls the expression of traits shared by all members of a neuron class, but is also required for subclass-specific traits expressed along the A-P axis. UNC-3, which is not regionally restricted, requires region-specific cofactors in the form of Hox proteins to co-activate subclass-specific effector genes in post-mitotic motor neurons. This intersectional gene regulatory principle for neuronal subclass diversification may be conserved from nematodes to mice. © 2017, eLife Sciences Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.