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What does having a family crest mean?

What does having a family crest mean?

Having a coat of arms, also known as a family crest, is a symbol of lineage and heritage. It represents the history of a family name and displays elements unique to that family. While historically associated with the noble class, today anyone can create their own family crest to celebrate their ancestry.

The Origins of Family Crests

The use of crests emerged in the 12th century during the Crusades. Knights painted symbols on their shields to identify themselves in battle. These designs were unique to each knight and were eventually passed down through noble families over generations.

Kings and lords also developed their own coats of arms to represent their dynasties. Their crest became a symbol of their dominion that was incorporated into official documentation and flown on flags above their castles.

As family crests were passed down, additional symbols were often added to represent intermarriages with other noble houses. This evolution reflected the family’s changing history and status.

The Elements of a Family Crest

While every family crest is unique, most contain common elements that have symbolic meaning. These can include:

  • A shield or escutcheon displaying the main symbols
  • A helmet denoting rank
  • Mantling which represents protection and sovereignty
  • A crest which sits atop the shield
  • A motto with words representing family values
  • Supporters which are figures that stand on either side of the shield

The colors used also have meaning. For example, red represents military strength, blue signifies truth and loyalty, and green represents hope and joy.

Heraldry Symbols in Family Crests

Heraldry is the language of family crests. It uses visual symbols to convey identity and meaning. Common heraldry symbols include:

Symbol Meaning
Lion Courage and leadership
Bear Strength and healing
Horse Readiness for battle and nobility
Snake Wisdom and eternal life
Tree Life and growth
Rose Hope and joy

By interpreting the symbols, colors, and motifs in a coat of arms, the history and values of a family can be uncovered.

The Significance of a Family Crest

For noble families, having a coat of arms cemented their status and legacy. It represented their deeds, allegiances, and very identity. But a family crest also signifies:

  • Legacy – It connects a family to their lineage and story over centuries.
  • Pride – Displaying the crest shows pride in one’s ancestry.
  • Identity – The symbols represent what’s important to the family.
  • Values – The motto often conveys core values.
  • Remembrance – It ensures a family’s legacy lives on.

Designing Your Own Family Crest

While crests were historically reserved for nobility, these days services exist to help anyone create their own coat of arms. Here are some tips for designing your own:

  • Research your surname origins and history for inspiration.
  • Incorporate symbols that resonate with your family’s values, occupation, interests or origins.
  • Select meaningful colors and a motto or slogan.
  • Keep the design simple for maximum impact.
  • Make it unique to tell your family’s special story.
  • Consider having it designed and approved by official heraldry societies.

Uses For a Family Crest Today

In today’s world, a family crest can proudly be displayed as:

  • A framed print to hang in homes.
  • An engraving on jewelry like rings or pendants.
  • A logo for sealing wax or letterhead.
  • A motif for embroidery on clothing or other textiles.
  • A tattoo or carving on objects.
  • A graphic for websites or digital media.

It serves as a special treasure to pass down between generations.


While no longer denoting noble status, a family crest holds deep meaning. The coat of arms represents a family’s origins, journey, accomplishments, values and identity. It creates a sense of continuity by linking the past to the present. For those who take pride in their roots, having a family crest is a way to celebrate legacy for generations to come.