Skip to Content

What a family crest means?

What a family crest means?

A family crest is an emblem used to visually identify a noble or aristocratic family. The crest contains symbolic images and elements that have special meaning for that particular family. Family crests originated in medieval Europe as a way for knights and nobles to identify themselves in battle and tournaments. Over time, the use of crests spread to non-noble families as a way to establish their status and leave a visual record for future generations. Understanding the meaning behind the images and symbols used in a family crest can provide insight into a family’s values, history, and ancestry.

What Is a Family Crest?

A family crest is a symbolic design belonging to a particular family. It traditionally contains images or elements that have special meaning for that family. Here are some key facts about family crests:

  • Originated in 12th century Europe as identifying emblems for noble families.
  • Often featured on shields, banners, seals, rings, and other personal items.
  • Passed down through generations from father to son.
  • Later adopted by non-noble families to establish status.
  • Contains images and symbols unique to that family’s history.
  • Used to visually identify and honor a family’s legacy.

In heraldry, a family crest is referred to as a “coat of arms” when displayed on a shield or “hatchment” when used decoratively over a door. The term “crest” specifically refers to the three-dimensional ornament on top of the helmet in a coat of arms. However, “family crest” has become the popular term for a family’s entire heraldic achievement.

Elements of a Family Crest

A family crest is composed of specific heraldic elements, each with special significance. Here are some of the key components:

Shield or Escutcheon: The focal point featuring the family’s symbolic images and colors. Different shapes had historical meanings.

Ordinary: Simple geometric charges like stripes, bars, crosses placed on the shield. Represents standards of behavior.

Charges: Picturesque images like animals, objects, or mythological beasts. Symbolize virtues, beliefs, or ancestry.

Colors: Tinctures of specific colors like red, blue, black have set meanings in heraldry.

Crest: A three-dimensional object above the helmet representing rank like a crown.

Wreath: Stylized twist of two colors encircling the crest. Signifies honor and achievement.

Mantling: Cloth cloak protecting the helmet and wreath. Denotes high rank and chivalry.

Helmet: Resting above the shield indicating noble status. Varies by rank and social class.

Motto: Brief phrase in Latin representing family values, virtues, or inspiration.

History of Family Crests

Family crests have a long, meaningful history across different cultures. Here is a brief timeline:

Ancient Civilizations: Earliest symbolic emblems used by ruling families in Egypt, Greece, China, and Japan.

1100s: Heraldic shields painted with identifying charges used by European knights in warfare and tournaments.

1200s: Heraldry expands as specialized artform with standardized rules and regulations.

1400s: Non-nobles such as merchants, guilds adopt heraldic achievements and family crests.

Victorian Era: Interest in heraldry and genealogy leads to revival of family crests.

Today: Family crests remain symbols of lineage, identity and continue evolving with time.

From battlefields to ancestral homes, a family’s crest has long served as a memorable visual emblem of their history and legacy. The tradition continues today with many families displaying and honoring centuries-old crests.

Heraldry Symbols and Meanings

The images and symbols used in heraldry each have special meanings. Here are some of the common charges and tinctures with their representations:

Lion: Strength, bravery, royalty

Eagle: Nobility, honor, perseverance

Unicorn: Purity, virtue, healing powers

Rose: Beauty, balance, promise

Oak Tree: Strength, endurance, wisdom

Sword: Justice, military honor, masculinity

Crown: Dominion, authority, sovereignty

Red: Strength, military might, warrior spirit

Blue: Loyalty, truth, steadfastness

Green: Hope, joy, health, nature

Black: Constancy, grief, knowledge

Gold/Yellow: Generosity, glory, prosperity

By incorporating specific charges and tinctures, a family communicated desired virtues, origins, and achievements to be passed down through generations.

How to Read a Family Crest

Interpreting the symbolism in a family crest provides insight into that family’s values and ancestry. Follow these tips when analyzing a crest:

  • Note the dominant charges – what virtues do they represent?
  • Identify the creatures – do they suggest a country or culture of origin?
  • Check the colors – what attributes do the tinctures signify?
  • Read the motto – what inspiration or goals are stated?
  • Study the helmet – what status or rank does it indicate?
  • Look up obscure symbols – their meaning may reveal achievements or occupations.
  • Consider the overall impression – what message does the crest convey?

Analyzing the choices made in a family crest reveals clues about a family’s aspirations, character, and history. Over time, the crest evolves representing each generation’s values and accomplishments.

Designing Your Own Family Crest

Families who want to establish or rediscover their legacy can design their own unique crest. Here are some tips:

  • Research your surname origins and ancestral background.
  • Select meaningful symbols representing values, beliefs, goals.
  • Incorporate family history like origins, occupations, achievements.
  • Use heraldic imagery or modernize with contemporary elements.
  • Establish a motto summarizing your inspirations and purpose.
  • Limit to 2-3 colors for visual impact.
  • Balance simplicity with personal touches.

When designing a family crest, the key is ensuring it reflects your family’s unique identity and story. The finished crest becomes a symbolic heirloom to take pride in for generations to come.

Importance of Family Crests Today

In today’s fast-paced world, family crests remain highly valued for their powerful representation of lineage, identity, and ideals. Here are some reasons family crests continue to be meaningful:

  • Visual Historic Record – Encapsulates family history, achievements, origins in one emblem.
  • Connection to Ancestry – Links present generation to previous ones through time-honored symbolism.
  • Source of Pride – Displaying a crest shows pride in family’s values and accomplishments.
  • Identity – Distinguishes family branches and provides sense of belonging.
  • Timeless Tradition – Centuries old custom still treasured today.
  • Artform – Complex, beautiful artistic style with meanings behind every component.

For these reasons, family crests retain their significance as a powerful representation of a family’s past, present, and aspirations for the future.


A family crest is much more than an intriguing relic of the past. The crest’s symbolic images and meaningful motto contain a family’s very essence and principles. Studying the heraldry reveals insights into a family’s distinguishing virtues, origins, and milestones. Designing your own crest allows you to establish your family’s identity and purpose for future generations. The tradition of family crests remains a timeless expression of lineage, legacy, and pride.