Archive for the ‘Designing your own coat of arms’ Category.

A Coat of Arms is a big deal

I’ve said it before and will say it again: don’t adopt a coat of arms lightly!

Arms serve, primarily, an identification function i.e. identifying the bearer/owner of the arms. This was true in the legendary beginning of heraldry, recognizing one knight from another from a distance on the battlefield, to today where the arms are more likely to be used as an online profile pic. An equivalent of sorts is an identifying tattoo or your unique signature.

However, what makes a coat of arms particularly special is that it is inherited. Using the tattoo example, think of a coat of arms as a tattoo that will be inherited by your descendants until the end of time (or the line dies out, whichever comes first). Just like you would want to be absolutely sure about the tattoo you’re going to get, you need to be absolutely sure about your arms. Even more so because of the hereditary nature of arms.

The inspiration for this post comes after reading the entry of October 9th on the blog “Crónicas heraldicas” by José Juan Carrión Rangel whereby someone is announcing publicly that he no longer wants his adopted arms as they no longer represent him. He is essentially going through a tattoo removal process, something most everyone wants to avoid happen.

The lesson learned from this story is to take it slow, do your soul-searching, take your time, test different versions, take your time, think hard and deep, and did I mention take your time?

 

See also:

Designing your own coat of arms – Conclusion

In this last post in the series on how to design your own coat of arms, we’ll try to bring everything together.

In all of the posts in the series, we saw how you can come up with ideas for the charges, tinctures and style of your coat of arms. You can draw from your ancestry, your familial symbols, family tradition, career and religion. Anything that defines you and your family can very well be a source of inspiration.

However, a very basic principle should be adhered to: the principle of KIS or Keep It Simple. Some may know it with an additional S for “Stupid” 🙂

Regardless of the number of Ss, the principle is to not make the shield overbearing and fall into the trap of lucky charms heraldry. In other words, you don’t have to include an allusion to everything that represents you, just enough to identify you.

Also, don’t forget the original purpose of heraldry: to identify a knight on the field of battle from a distance. If the arms are too complex and have too much on it, it becomes a bungled mess.

Grenville Diptych

Above is the Grenville Diptych displaying all the quarterings of the arms of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos. It contains all the information about the family but it’s a mess. A wonderful find for any lover of heraldry to try to identify all the arms depicted and the stories behind them but, as a shield on it’s own it’s too much.

Your arms are a place where you can express yourself, identify yourself, put your own personal touches but it is not a curriculum vitae or a family tree. Take the elements that you think fit best together, use the appropriate tinctures, follow the basic heraldic rules (tinctures, crests, etc) and you’re sure to come up with a very attractive coat of arms.

If all else fails, you can always reach out to any of the various heraldic artists out there, the various heraldry forums, or, if you want, me 🙂

Previous: Belief System
Start over: Introduction


Designing your own coat of arms – Belief system

Much like you can represent your ancestry in your coat of arms you may want to make an allusion to your faith or philosophy.

Let’s not forget that heraldry was originally a wholly Christian phenomenon and the armigers were very proud of their Christian faith. This explains the wide variations of crosses used as well as the various charges of the faith.

However, one need not be a Christian to have an allusion of their faith on their shield.

In this post, we will explore how one’s individual belief system can be shown on the shield, if so desired.

paschal-lamb martlet



Christianity has had the longest tradition in heraldry and as such can draw upon the largest collection of heraldic symbols. Having said that, nothing is more popular than the cross. There are crosses of all kinds, from the normal Latin Cross all the way to a cross fleury to any combination of crosses. Of course, there are other options. If, for example, you have made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you may opt for the escallop (sea shell). You may want to use a Paschal Lamb (purity) or a Martlet (faith) or a heart, etc. All Christian denominations have symbolism specific to them and you may want to use one of those symbols. Above you can see a Paschal Lamb and a Martlet (a bird without a beak and without legs).

Flag of Pakistan

The color Green (heraldic Vert) is sacred in Islam  and may be used as the color of the field. The crescent or combination of crescent and star has become associated with the Muslim faith over the past few centuries and may be used as well. The flag of Pakistan, shown above, displays both the color green as well as the crescent and star.

Star of David

In the Jewish faith, the combination of Blue and White (heraldic Azure and Argent) is closely associated to the religion. Of course, the most well known symbols of Judaism are the Magen David (or Star of David) and the Menorah. Other religious symbols that you may consider using are a tzitzit or a tefillin.

There are, of course, numerous other faiths in the world and there is no way they can all be listed here. The purpose though is to make you think about your belief system and what symbols represent it. Then to see how to incorporate those symbols (in one way or another) in your shield.

Proper care should be taken so that the shield is not mistaken to being those of a Temple or office. For example, while it would be fine to use the Magen David and a representation of the Torah as the shield of a Synagogue, it would be wholly inappropriate for an individual to bear such a shield; even if that person is a Kohanim.


Previous: AncestryNext: Conclusion


Designing your own coat of arms – Ancestry

In this part of the series on designing your own coat of arms we’ll examine how your ancestry can be represented in a coat of arms. The ancestry to be represented can be as simple as one’s heritage (e.g. English, German, Italian, Greek, Native American etc.) to as complex as the results of thorough genealogical research.

Today, more people have an ancestry that is not 100% completely from the place where they currently live than ever before. Whether they hail (wholly or partly) from another region of the same country or from another country at the other end of the planet, people have mixed heritages. It is not uncommon to hear someone, especially in the United States, answer the question “what’s your ancestry?” and go into fractions; I have worked with someone in the past who answered the question thus: “I’m 1/4 Irish, 1/8 French, 1/8 German, 1/16 Cherokee, 7/16 English”.

This mix can lead down very interesting paths when designing a new coat of arms.

Of course, one need not represent all those heritages proportionately, equally or at all. One may indeed be 1/8 French but may not feel as that French heritage represents them at all; they may have a closer relationship with their 1/16 Cherokee ancestry. In this case, the French ancestry could be ignored and the Cherokee one given more weight.

When drawing upon one’s ancestry to design a coat of arms, it is important to make sure that one uses appropriate allusions so that the whole ties together. Also, one should not use symbols that are very closely tied to the country in question either through it’s government or its royal family. Finally, it is never a good idea to just plop a country’s flag on your arms.

Naturally, it goes without saying, that using another country’s arms in your own is extremely distasteful, pretentious and may even be illegal. Unless, of course, you are member of that country’s royalty; but then, you wouldn’t be designing a new coat of arms 🙂

Some things that should be avoided either because it’s wholly inappropriate or because they have been overused:

  • A clover or trefoil for Ireland
  • A fleur-de-lys for France
  • A saltire for Scotland
  • An eagle for Germany
  • A double headed eagle for Orthodoxy
  • A Greek cross Argent on a field Gules for Switzerland
  • A Greek cross Argent on a field Azure for Greece
  • etc.

The best approach is to use not widely used charges or subtle allusions.

For example, instead of blazoning your arms “Sable a heraldic panther Or” which would leave it up to the artist to emblazon the panther using any form (English or German), you can say “Sable a German heraldic panther Or” to make sure that the one representing your heritage is used (in this case German).

Another example may be to use the national colors, national animal/bird, patron saint etc. of the country. Perhaps a charge representing the most common profession such as shipping, farming.  Alternatively, you can use what is most associated with the country in question, for example a clock for Switzerland.

Just remember that the shield will a representation of you and not of any country or culture from which you claim descent.

Previous: Career Next: Belief system


Designing your own coat of arms – Career

In this next entry in the series of designing a new coat of arms, we’ll explore how to use your professional career, military and civil service.

A person’s profession defines them as much as their name, sometimes even more so. It is no coincidence that in the Spanish language when saying what your profession is you use the verb “ser”, that relates to the essence of a person or object, instead of the verb “estar”, that relates to the state of a person or object.

Traditionally, it has been members of the military that have included some allusion or even direct representation of their service or accomplishment. However, alluding to one’s career is not the exclusive domain of those who have served their sovereign or country in uniform.

In any case, let’s begin with how someone who has had their military career define them would represent that in their arms.

COA HowardHoward Augmentation

images courtesy of Wikipedia

The images above show on the left the arms of Thomas Howard with an augmentation of honor (shown on the right) given him by King Henry VII for his participation in the battle of Flodden Field in 1513, where the English forces decisively beat the Scottish forces under King James IV. The augmentation is a modification of the arms of Scotland with an arrow piercing the lion.

Something such as what was used by Thomas Howard in the 16th century can be used by modern members of the military to allude to a significant victory in which they participated. Though, an addition such as this is best left to be granted by a heraldic authority or to be used by someone who was instrumental in the victory by being the leader of the efforts. For example, General Eisenhower referring to the Allied victory in Europe.

For most service members it may be best to use the main tools of their service. For example, a ship or anchor for those in the Navy, a rifle for those in the Infantry, a canon for those in the Artillery, an aircraft propeller or wings for those in the Air Force or a bulldog for those in Marines. Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list, they are only meant to serve as examples of what can be used. Each should use what they feel “speaks” to them more but, be aware that you shouldn’t use the emblem of your service or unit as is (like a copy & paste) as that would be highly improper and it may even be illegal.

In the same vein, careers in other fields can be represented in a new coat of arms. Every profession has its own symbolism, from cogs to wheels to animals to even the DNA double helix.

COA Drayson(image from the College of Arms)

The arms shown above are those of Baron Paul Drayson, Life Peer, using the DNA double helix as a charge to reflect his career in the pharmaceutical industry.

rod of Asclepius

Another symbol that is very closely tied to the health sciences in general and medicine in particular is the rod of Asclepius. However, as this symbol is very popular and has been used so much, I would recommend the new armiger to choose something else so as to stand out from the crowd.

Invented COA for a surgeon

An idea, for a surgeon, would be to perhaps represent the barber’s pole (in centuries past barbers where the surgeons). A sample is show above with a blazon: Vert a pale bendy Argent Azure Argent Gules.

As with sample charges that can be used for service in the military mentioned above, I’ll list some examples that can be used for certain professions. Once again, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and are only meant as suggestions:

  • Law enforcement: A five pointed star (representing a sheriff’s badge) or a baton.
  • Attorney or Judge: Scales of justice or a gavel.
  • Engineer: A cog or a tool
  • IT or Computer  Professional: Usage of only the tinctures Sable and Argent (black and white) to represent binary notation.
  • Business or Sales: A fox or a cog.
  • Politician: Tinctures associated with their party or ideology. An alternative would be to use a symbol associated with the office held.
  • Farmer: Farming tools or the crop farmed.
  • Animal husbandry: The animal(s) tended to.
  • Accountant: An abacus or perhaps books on scales (for balancing books).
  • Writer: A quill or a book.
  • Artist: A paintbrush.
  • Musician: The instrument played.
  • Professor: A book or a scroll.


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