What Does My Coat of Arms Crest Mean?

by John Briggs

A coat of arms or family crest is steeped in symbolism usually representing national pride or family interests. Originally designed to resemble Roman battle flags, meaning varied from country to country before becoming standardized in the late Middle Ages.

Time Frame

European coat of arms first appeared in the 13th century to distinguish knights in battle and to represent kings and nobles. The family crest came into vogue during the Renaissance at the behest of wealthy families.


Everything on a family crest has meaning, including the colors, the divisions or ordinaires, the border, the furs and the central object or charges marked by flora, fauna, tools, religious symbols, or mythical creatures.


Animals and mythical beasts could take passive positions but were most often poised to strike, indicating steadfastness and strength on the part of a knight or family.


Coat of arms contained two basic colors, gold and silver and five tinctures. Two tinctures were added during the Renaissance---orange, indicating a worthy goal, and maroon, symbolizing patience in battle.


The rebus, or motto on a family crest, can state a serious belief but was frequently a joke or play on words regarding the family name or village.

Fun Fact

The art of designing family crests is called heraldry, based on the German words heer, meaning army, and held, or champion.

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About the Author

Over the course of a 15-year career, John Briggs has written for print and online clients. As a syndicated TV critic, his work appeared in some of the country's top dailies. He has a degree in political science from Temple University and took additional writing classes at NYU.