Family Crests and Coats of Arms
June 27, 2006 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Are people selling coats of arms over the internet making it up?

I am curious about purchasing a family crest / coat of arms type of thing. There are plenty of places out there on the internet selling these things, but are they just making it up or what? Is there anywhere I can look to find out what my family crest SHOULD look like or if I even have one to begin with. I'd post my surname to help with answering, but I'm not comfortable with's not like it's Smith, it's fairly uncommon. It's German in origin and I do know for a fact it was changed slightly (I'm confident I know what it used to be, assuming it wasn't changed even before taht) when my family immigrated here.
posted by crypticgeek to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just because you have the same surname doesn't mean you are entitled to use the Crest or Coat of Arms registered to or associated with a particular family in a particular place. Not all Windsors can use the Royal crest, etc.
posted by fshgrl at 5:56 PM on June 27, 2006

I'm not interested in whether I'm "entitled" or not. I'm certainly not interested in this because I want to be pretentious.
posted by crypticgeek at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2006

See if your name is on either of the lists from this page. (If it's on the last, hope you know French.)

Also, if you add "blazon" to your Google search, you'll get more reputable results. That's really what you're looking for — it's a description in text of the coat of arms. Once you find that, you can tell whether the shops are selling legit ones or not.
posted by smackfu at 6:21 PM on June 27, 2006

Design your own, it's probably more relevant. Why pay someone else for a cheap and meaningless badge which likely contains a bunch of references to things which have no relation to your life? Unless you are purchasing an antique coat of arms - relevant in its day and therefore worth owning - I would describe it as a rip off. There are better ways to reseach and commemorate your heritage.
posted by fire&wings at 6:26 PM on June 27, 2006

Look at it this way-- crests are associated with peerage and non-peer heraldry. Could every surname have a peerage title associated with it? Search those sites, and enter the last names of everyone you know. They'll all have a crest.

And if the folks selling them are making a lot of them up, what are the chances that they bothered to get accurate versions of names that actually have an associated crest?

Burke's peerage is an excellent resource if your ancestry is British.

For what it's worth, just because there might be heraldry associated with your name doesn't mean that you're entitled to use it anyway. For example, there's a dude in Dorset, England with my last name who can sit in the House of Lords. But I would have to kill the diaspora of many generations before I could lay claim to the title and associated heraldry.

(Note to the British authorities: I am not considering doing this)
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:34 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I believe there are a fairly large number of genuine heraldic names that have family coats of arms, and there are a great many secondary names that are associated with these. So if you are a brandenburg, you would have the brandenburg crest, whereas if you are a e.g. Henkel, you might not have a crest but perhaps a Henckel married a Brandenburg in 1728 so you may have some claim to display that crest as being one of your ancestors.
And if you are selling crests you might gloss over the second bit and just say "this is the crest of one of your Henckel ancestors."
I know there are reputable heraldry specialists, you probably want some little dusty shop in London that has been in business for 400 years. Of course, they probably have a web site by now but I don't have a link.
posted by bystander at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2006

This page has a number of links to help you get started and a warning about fraud/scam coats-of-arms. There's an About page that's actually not bad on "Practicing Safe Geneology."
posted by desuetude at 6:44 PM on June 27, 2006

They are all scams.
posted by ND¢ at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2006

Dude you've already got one
posted by blag at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2006

In Canada you should go through the Canadian Heraldic Authority. There should be similar authorities in each Commonwealth state. If your nation-state happens to be a republic, then you can either fake it, or admit the revolution was a bad idea. ;)
posted by tiamat at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2006

Another site with information on how to research your surname and find legit coats of arms.
posted by desuetude at 7:08 PM on June 27, 2006

If you can't prove a legitimate legal right to use a coat of arms (passed down the male line from individual to individual), I am sure you can always get yourself one that is recognised as legitimate under Cayman Islands law.

Failing that, the Swedish bloke who claimed sovereignty over all the no-man's-land between the world's borders might give you a peerage for a few bob if you ask nicely. I forget his name, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2006

bystander writes "I believe there are a fairly large number of genuine heraldic names that have family coats of arms"

Having the same name means precisely nothing. You have to prove descent from someone who was, in fact, entitled to bear arms.

To put it another way... for you to claim usage of a coat of arms/bearings/crest/etc, is roughly akin to you saying "Hey, your last name is Smith and my last name is Smith, so I get a share of your granddad's estate." It's a bit less material than that, sure, but it's somewhere in the same ballpark.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:09 PM on June 27, 2006

I'm not interested in whether I'm "entitled" or not. I'm certainly not interested in this because I want to be pretentious.

Well then, yes, the crests are based on genuine family crests for the most part, however the "family" wouldn't have had one crest like the internet sites claim. Lots of people in the same family would have been entitled to bear arms but a lot of them had their own crests designed based on the previous family one with bits added that were meaningful to the people involved like after an important marraige or new lands acquired or whatever.
posted by fshgrl at 8:17 PM on June 27, 2006

Thanks everyone for your insight and links. I'm much more interested in this from a historical/cultural perspective. I don't want to say this is MY coat of arms. I want to say, look here's some Smith coat of arms from Germany...neat eh? Just something to hang on the wall perhaps and look neat. While at the same time, actually having atleast a little bit of actual historical signifigance and not some made up artistry sold to me as what it's not.
posted by crypticgeek at 11:22 PM on June 27, 2006

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