A coat of arms brings to mind medieval times with swords, shields and armour. I love that it is a visual representation of a family name.
What is a Coat of Arms?
It’s basically a shield that identifies a particular person. It was an easy way to identify people on the battlefield. Over time its function changed and according to Wikipedia the designs on the shields became more elaborate. As they were passed down with every generation, slight changes were added and some families would even merge their coats of arms.
Do All Families Have a Coat of Arms?
No. According to the College of Arms (official heraldic authority for England, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are no coats of arms for surnames because they only belong to individuals. That’s why you may come across several versions of a coat of arms for a surname, and they can vary quite a bit depending what country your family comes from.
What’s Included in a Coat of Arms?
Do the Symbols Have Special Meaning?
A shield I had made as a wedding gift for my husband.
Of course! All the different components are made up of symbols, such as animals, plants, colours, lines, even textures such as fur – each with different meanings. Those meanings can vary, depending on the source.
For example, the Williams coat of arms has a gold lion which represents bravery and strength, while the dog on top represents courage and loyalty.
Although this particular coat of arms may not be from our direct family line, it evokes a sense of pride, and it makes a great conversation piece.
For an extensive list of symbols and their meanings, please visit Fleur-de-lis Designs.
Can Countries Have a Coat of Arms?
Yes, it appears most countries have a national coat of arms, or an emblem.
Canada’s coat of arms has a lot of influences from Great Britain and France, fused with distinctly Canadian symbols and colours.
On the shield, the red square contains the three royal lions of England, the yellow square has the royal lion of Scotland, and the bottom two blue squares have the royal Irish harp of Tara and the royal fleurs-de-lis of France. And of course there are three maple leaves in red to symbolize Canada.
A detailed description of the parts of Canada’s coat of arms can be found at Canadian Heritage, and visit the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada for a history of the Royal Arms of Canada.
How Do I Find My Coat of Arms?
A quick Google search of your last name will pull up information about its history. If you have a common last name, as I do, add some search terms, such as “surname”, “coat of arms” or “family crest”. There are many companies to choose from that sell family coat of arm products, such as T-shirts, mugs, framed prints and printed histories. They offer a search of their database where you will hopefully find a coat of arms for your own family name.
Canadian Coat of Arms photo located at Wikimedia.