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.

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