Designing your own coat of arms – Ancestral arms or familial symbols

In part 2 of the series on designing your own coat of arms, we’ll examine how one can use any ancestral arms or familial symbols. The assumption, of course, is that those ancestral arms cannot be used, even with some form of differencing.

So, let’s say that family tradition has it that you are a distant relative of some minor European noble that bore arms. The relation is so distant, that there isn’t a cadency mark to denote the relationship. Just to make things interesting, let’s also assume that there isn’t any supporting documentation to prove this relation.

Since there isn’t any proof of descent from this ancient armiger, it would be imprudent to just adopt those arms with a difference. A new coat of arms would be the recommended solution but can draw ideas from the pre-existing arms.

To make the discussion easier, let’s invent a coat of arms that will serve for illustration purposes.


(Note: any resemblance to existing coat of arms belonging to an individual, family or organization is purely coincidental)

The blazon for the invented coat of arms above is: Gules, an oak tree eradicated Or between in base two anchors Argent.

Now, let’s see what we’ve got to work with….

We have the tinctures: Gules (red), Or (gold/yellow) and Argent (silver/white)

We have an oak tree.

We have anchors.

Putting the tinctures aside, one can use the oak tree as the inspiration to use a tree, an acorn, or an oak leaf. The anchors may have us use a nautical or sea theme; perhaps a fish, a sea shell or a boat.

Remember that you don’t need to use all the elements of the base shield but rather use them as an inspiration.

For example, your train of thought could be: Oak trees produce acorns. Acorns are eaten by squirrels. Squirrel fur was used in the middle ages and is represented in heraldry as Vair. Therefore, in the newly devised arms you may want to use Vair.

Of course, the thought process just mentioned may seem far fetched and I’m sure a psychoanalyst may diagnose some kind of disturbing malaise but, it illustrates how one can come up with new ideas.

It should be noted that one should not merely re-interpret an ancient coat of arms. That old shield is to be used as a starting point and elements identifying yourself and your family should be the primary components.

Continuing with the Vair example above, we can create a new shield as depicted below:


The blazon is: Vairy Or and Gules a cog Argent. The cog representing the family’s engineering business (assuming such a business exists).

In a similar fashion, familial symbols (cattle brands, house marks, etc.) can be used. Especially if there is some sort of symbol that a direct ancestor (if not oneself) used. Depending on the symbol, it may used unmodified as a charge on the shield or use a charge that resembles it.

The general rule of thumb with any kind of familial symbol (heraldic or otherwise) is that if you can support a claim to it, you can probably use it as is. If you cannot but want to incorporate it somehow, use an allusion to it.

However, beware of “fantasy” genealogy. For example, just because your surname is “Drake” doesn’t mean you are necessarily related to Sir Francis Drake and can use the Wyvern Gules.

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