Archive for January 2009

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.

Previous: Canting arms Next: Ancestry

Crescent and Star

Banner of Constantinople(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Looking at the banner above with the crescent moon and star, the first thought that comes to mind is either “Turkey” or “Islam” and it would make perfect sense. However, as you may have already suspected, things are not that simple. As a matter of fact, the banner above of the white crescent moon and star on a red field is the banner of the city of Constantinople!

The crescent moon has been in use for centuries before Islam was even an idea or the Prophet born. Though it may seem surprising at first, it makes perfect sense once you start thinking about it. The crescent moon is a natural symbol and has been visible to human for millenia in the night sky. Stars as well have enthralled our species since we first gazed to the heavens. So, why has this symbolism been associated with Turkey and Islam?

In this post, we will explore the history of the crescent and star and reach to today’s situation.

The specific combination of the crescent and star has been in use, as mentioned before, for centuries. Specifically, this symbolism was most prevalent in the Hellenistic and Persian worlds. We find this on pottery, art and coinage of the region during the pre-Islamic and pre-Christian epochs.

Banner of Byzantium(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are records indicating the city-state of Byzantium first started using the crescent and star in coinage and just the crescent on the state’s banner some time in 4th century BC. It is said that the Byzantines (city) used the crescent as a way to pay tribute to their protector goddess Artemis who, they believed, helped them defeat a mighty enemy.

In post-classical Greece, we see art where Artemis is adorned with the crown of the crescent moon and much later, in the Renaissance do we find her adorned with crescents. This raises the question of why is the crescent associated with Artemis. My personal belief is that the crescent was originally a hunter’s bow which later evolved to become the crescent. As it is well known, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and her ascribed skills with the bow and arrow were unequaled.

An alternative theory is that it was not Artemis at all but rather Hecate, an ancient, cthonic goddess. Hecate, according to Hesiod’s Theogny, was the only daughter of Asteria (“stars” in Greek) who in turn was the sister of Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo. Hecate was linked to the dark side of the moon and, more importantly, Phoebe, the mother of Asteria and Leto, grandmother to Hecate, Artemis and Apollo was the personification of the moon.

In any case, by the 4th century AD the symbol was unequivocably a crescent moon and the banner of the city of Byzantium was a white crescent on a red field.

It was in 330AD that Emperor Constantine I of Rome refounded the city as his new capital calling the city Nova Roma. It was Constantine who added the six pointed star to the flag to honor the Virgin Mary.

Constantine rebuilt the city almost completely and because of all the work he did there and the emphasis he put into his “new Rome”, it became known as Constantine’s City or in Greek “Κωνσταντινούπολη”/”Constantinople” (note that in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek language was more prevalent than Latin). This name became official after Constantine’s death in 337AD and remained so until the city was renamed once again in 1930 by the new Republic of Turkey to “Istanbul”.

On May 29, 1453 the Ottoman forces of Mehmed II the Conqueror entered Constantinople, finally eradicating the Byzantine Empire. As Mehmed considered himself to be the Emperor of Rome, he wanted to incorporate the Roman symbolism into that of his empire. A note should be made here that it wasn’t until the 16th century that the Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as “Byzantine”. Until then, it was still known alternatively as the “Roman Empire”, the “Eastern Roman Empire” and the “Empire of the Greeks”. This explains why Mehmed considered himself the “Roman Emperor”. However, the Western Europeans dismissed this claim, a fact that did not sit well with the new “Emperor”. To settle this once and for all, he attempted to capture the “old” Rome in Italy. Though he was successful at first, capturing parts of the Italian peninsula (such as Otranto and Apulia), the Ottoman forces withdrew after Mehmed’s death in 1481.

Flag of Turkey(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Of course, Turkey is the successor state of the once mighty Ottoman Empire, created by Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, who replaced the previous form of government under the powerless Ottoman Sultan in 1923. The national emblem of the new republic are displayed above.

The story so far is interesting and explains how the crescent moon and star became associated with Turkey. But, how about the general association with Islam?

In Islam, there is the concept regarding the political leadership of the Muslim world (or ummah) called the ‘caliphate’. The head of the caliphate is called the caliph or Amir al-Mu’minin (“Leader of the Believers”) and is considered the successor to the Prophet Muhammed.

COA Ottoman Empire(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There have been many caliphates from the inception of Islam, the first one, of course, being that under Muhammed himself with the capital in Medina in present day Saudi Arabia. However, the largest caliphate of them all was the Ottoman Empire itself.

All the Ottoman rulers used the title of Caliph but, it wasn’t until 1517 when the title was solidified. This was the year the Ottomans conquered the Mamluk Sultanate and took over the Arab lands. The Mamluk Sultan (of the Abassid faimly) also considered himself the Caliph and when he was defeated in 1517, the last Abassid Caliph, al-Mutawakkil III, turned over the title to the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I.

Now, considering that the Ottoman Empire was the sole caliphate in the world for three centuries and all of Islam centered around the Ottomans, it is easy to understand how Muslims came to associate their faith with the symbol of the empire. With the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the new countries that sprang were also Muslim and based their national symbology on that of the Ottomans.

Flag of Pakistan

The conclusion is that the crescent moon and star has a rather recent link to Islam (from the 15th century) and it shouldn’t dissuade any prospective armiger from using this combination on their arms. I bet that if the Prophet Muhammed had seen, say, the flag of Pakistan (above) he’d dismiss it as a Roman banner!

Designing your own coat of arms – Canting arms

In this entry of the series on designing your own coat of arms, we’ll explore canting arms, i.e. arms that play on the name of the armiger.

One of the most popular ways of coming up with ideas for a new coat of arms, and my favorite, is to come up with canting arms. The word “canting” comes from the word “cantar(e)” in Spanish/Italian that means “to sing”. In other words, the arms are a play or pun on one’s name. Canting arms are also known, in French, as “armes parlantes” or “speaking arms”.

What does this mean to you? Well, it’s simple. Think of your surname or the nickname your family has had. Does it mean anything? Is it a combination of words? Or is it a toponym?

Martyrdom of Andrewimage courtesy of Wikipedia

Let’s take for example my own surname of “Andreou”. As I mention in my post on my arms, my surname is the ancient Greek form of the name “Andrew”. I used the saltire (X like cross) as a cant of my surname as this symbolizes St. Andrew the Apostle.

Every name has a cant. The question is really whether someone wants to use it or not.

Many times it’s not easy to find out what the surname means. This is usually because the name derives either from a non-English language or from some archaic version of the word.

Taking some examples from Boutell’s Heraldry (1983 ed) we find the following examples: the De Lucy shield bearing three pikefish (at the time called “lucies”); the Burdon shield being Gules, three pilgrims staves Argent (a pilgrim’s stave used to be called a “bourdon”);  etc.

Canting arms are not new and are very common in early heraldry and, also according to Boutell’s Heraldry, the arms sometimes were a cant of the armiger’s first name.

Now that canting arms have been explained comes the difficult part. How do you find out what your surname means? It’s not always easy. Not everyone is named “Smith” where they can use, for example, an anvil. Also, it’s not always supposed to be very clear. One of the joys in heraldry is trying to solve the mystery of the arms and figure out how the charges came about.

For example, let’s take a friend of mine named “Karagiannis”. This surname can be split into two:  “karas” and “giannis”. “Karas” means “black” in Turkish and was very commonly given by the Ottomans as a prefix to a Greek’s name. “Giannis” is the Greek form of “John”. In other words, one could translate “Karagiannis” to “Blackjohn”. Taking it a step further, it could be “Blackjack”.  As we all know, the key numbers in the card game of blackjack are 14 and 21. Therefore, a nice cant would be a field of 21 charges. Without knowing the story, the observer would have to wonder how the shield came about.

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Heraldry of Chile

COA Chile

Today we will review the coat of arms of the Republic of Chile. The current arms of Chile are those displayed above and the blazon of the shield is: Per fess Azure and Gules overall a mullet of 5 points Argent.

The supporters of the shield are to the dexter (heraldic left) a huemul and to the sinister (heraldic right) an Andean condor. Both being the national animals of Chile. Additionally, both are crowned with naval crowns.

The condor is the most significant bird of prey in the Andean region and the largest flying bird of the western hemisphere. The condor plays a significant role in many of the local myths and traditions and is inextricably linked to the history of the Andean countries.

The huemul is another native species of the region however it is extremely rare. It belongs to the deer family and the specific huemul is the “Patagonian Huemul”, also known as the “South Andean Deer”.


The huemul is so rare that very few know of it and has caused artists to make mistakes as the one shown above. In this emblazonment, we see the dexter supporter being a horse because the artist had never before seen or heard of the South Andean Deer and mistook it for a horse!

This coat of arms was designed by Charles Wood Taylor and adopted on June 26, 1834 during the administration of President José Joaquín Prieto. However, it was first officially defined as the National Coat of Arms in the Decreto Supremo Nº 1.534 of the Ministry of Interior in 1967. Interestingly, it had been previously defined in the Decreto N° 2.271 of the Ministry of War on September 4, 1920.

The motto Por la razón o la fuerza (“By reason or force”) is modern Spanish version of the ancient Latin phrase Aut consiliis aut ense (“by counsel or by the sword”), attributed to Rome. This concept is foundational in a state of law (or Rechsstaat). Reasoning representing judicial process and rights of the citizenry. Force representing the power of the state.

Chile was first sighted by Ferdinand Magellan when he crossed the Magellan Straight in 1520 however, Diego de Almagro is credited with the discovery in 1537. De Almagro organized an expedition and reached central Chile but, when compared to the riches found in Peru, determined that the lands and peoples were poor and not worth the effort.

It was Pedro de Valdivia who explored further south wanting to expand the lands of the crown. With only a few hundred men he managed to subdue the native populace and in 1541 he founded Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, present day Santiago de Chile and was first Royal Governor of Chile.

Lautaro flag

In 1553, De Valdivia dies at the Battle of Tucapel by a Mapuche toqui (war chief) named Lautaro. His banner, as displayed in the art of Fray Pedro Subercaseaux, is presented above.

The series of battles between the Spanish and the natives, mainly the Mapuche, known as the Arauco War went on for many years. However, the Spanish conquest was a foretold event.

COA Spanish Empire

The Spanish crown had divided the colonies in the Americas into two Viceroyalties, that of New Spain (containing the lands in Central and North America) and that of Peru (containing South America). Hence, Chile was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The arms displayed above are those used during the Spanish Empire (specifically of Charles I).

The Viceroyalty of Peru was founded in 1542 and lasted, even after losing territory to new viceroyalties and independence movements, until 1824. The capital was Lima (present day capital of the Republic of Peru) and was the most powerful of the Spanish American Viceroyalties for the largest part of its history.

COA Castille & Leon

Chile was from the very beginning given autonomy as the Captaincy General of Chile and sometimes called Kingdom of Chile. This “kingdom” was a personal possession of the King of Castille & Leon and, as you may already know, the King of Spain is also the King of Castille & Leon (among other kingdoms). The arms above are of Castille & Leon blazoned: Quarterly 1st & 4th Gules a three towered castle Or masoned Sable ajoure Azure (for Castille), 2nd & 3rd Argent a lion rampant Purpure armed and langued Gules crowned Or (for Leon).

In 1808, the King of Spain Ferdinand VII lost his throne to the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ferdinand would not be reinstated until 1813 and the period of dispute of the Spanish throne put the American colonies in limbo. Ferdinand and his father Charles were being held prisoners by the French who had appointed Napoleon’s brother Joseph as the new King. Ferdinand’s sister Charlotte Joaquina, at the time living in Brazil, stepped forward claiming to be the heir to the throne and styled herself as Queen of La Plata.

In Chile at about the same time, the current Governor General died and was replaced, following the rules of succession, by an authoritarian Brigadier General named García Carrasco. During his administration and because of the current events, the populace of Chile was divided into three groups: those supporting Ferdinand, those supporting Charlotte Joaquina’s claim and a very small minority supporting independence.

In 1809, after Carrasco was embroiled in a scandal and his removal from office in 1810 along with more dire news from Spain regarding the war with France things began to change in Chile. Especially after the successful revolution in Argentina, the move for independence started gathering steam.

On September 18, 1810 the Government Junta of the Kingdom of Chile was called and it is the first time that Chileans got to make all the decisions on how to govern themselves. This is considered as the beginning of what is called the Patria Vieja which lasted until the formation of the new Republic of Chile in 1814.


On October 26, 1812 a constitution is written in Chile for the first time containing 27 articles. Only a month prior, on September 30, the previous Governor, José Miguel Carrera, introduced a new national coat of arms depicted above. The new arms were put on display in the main entrance to the governor’s palace. Note the motto beneach the achievement with the Latin phrase Aut consiliis aut ense discussed earlier in this post.

In 1814, the year of the Battle of Rancagua (or Disaster of Rancagua) was when the Imperial forces of Spain began their reconquer (reconquista) of Chile. In the aforementioned battle, the Spanish forces routed the rebel Chilean forces and re-established the colonial rule. This same year the Patria Vieja was pronounced dead and the decrees of the period declared null and void.

As Chile was a Spanish colony once again, it fell under the old Spanish arms displayed earlier.


The period of the Reconquista lasted until February 12, 1817 when the rebel Chilean forces under General Bernardo O’Higgins won the decisive Battle of Chacabuco. This is the date generally used to demark the end of the failed Reconquista and the beginning of what has been called the Patria Nueva. This period used the arms displayed above which were based on the previous arms of the Patria Vieja.

The following decades were tumultuous as the people of Chile tried to define their new country. It went through various phases of republicanism and achieved the formal recognition of independence from the Spanish crown in 1844. Though it was in 1818 that Chile had declared its independence.

General O’Higgins introduced many changes with the new government, such as the abolition of all titles of nobility. Unfortunately, another one of the victims of the new policies was heraldry in Chile. The new regime also abolished all familial and personal coats of arms as O’Higgins had the incorrect belief that heraldry denoted nobility.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the present coat of arms was adopted in 1834 and remained in used throughout the country’s multiple historical phases and is still in use today. Even during the military dictatorship under General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, the current arms remained in use.

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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