Can you claim a coat of arms based on your last name? Not unless you can prove direct lineage to the person the honor was granted to. Contrary to popular belief, a coat of arms isn’t solely based on surname. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun! You may certainly design your own coat of arms, and there’s even websites to help you do so (see below). You can also have it registered with the American College of Heraldry, which recommends you follow these guidelines when designing your own:
- Make sure your design is unique. Check other crests to make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s design.
- Keep the design simple; the idea is to have it be easily recognized as yours and remembered.
- If possible, design your arms in the style of your ethnic background. This will require you to research that country’s heraldic style.
- Don’t use symbols that have particular meaning in heraldry, such as crowns, coronets and supporters.
- Look for symbols that represent you as an individual, such as your occupation or hobby.
The Elements of a Heraldic Achievement
Although we commonly refer to it as a “coat of arms,” the proper term is a “heraldic or armorial achievement.” A complete heraldic achievement is made up of a crest, wreath, mantle, helmet, shield and, although not essential, a motto.
For more detail on these elements, check out “Guide to Understanding Coat of Arms for Genealogists.”
The crest is a figure or symbol attached to the top of the helmet.
The helmet supports the crest.
The wreath is at the base of the crest and was used to attach the mantle to the helmet.
The mantle represents the fabric being slashed in battle.
The motto is a statement of fact, a hope or battle cry.
The shield is the most important part of the coat of arms. It is made up of a field (the surface or background) and the charges (the symbols on the field).
Tinctures—the colors, precious metals and furs on a coat of arms—are also represented by words and patterns.
Coat of Arms Design Websites
- Coat of Arms Generator
- Inkwell Ideas Coat of Arms Design Studio
- Uplink Heraldry Generator
A version of this article appeared in the August 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine.