Find out what your family crest is

LYRICS: THE HEADWINDS — THE FAMILY CREST

Do you have a "family" coat of arms? If so, it may not be exactly what you think. Many people throughout history have used coats of arms ornamentally without giving much thought to the accuracy of their design or their own right to use them. There are, unfortunately, many companies in business today who will sell you "your family coat of arms " on a t-shirt, mug, or 'handsomely engraved' plaque.

While these companies are not necessarily out to scam you, their sales pitch is very misleading and, in some cases, outright incorrect. A coat of arms is essentially a graphic display of your family's name, made unique in some way to the individual bearer. A traditional coat of arms typically includes a patterned shield that is decorated with a crest, a helmet, a motto, a crown, a wreath, and a mantling.

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The oldest son would often inherit the coat of arms from his father without any changes, while younger brothers often added symbols to make theirs unique. When a woman married, the coat of arms of her family was often added to her husband's arms, called marshaling. As families grew, the shield of the coat of arms was sometimes divided into different parts e. Many people interchangeably use the terms crest and coat of arms to refer to the same thing, however, the crest is just one small part of the full coat of arms—an emblem or symbol worn upon a helmet or crown.

Except for a few individual exceptions from some parts of Eastern Europe, there is no such thing as a "family" coat of arms for a particular surname - despite the claims and implications of some companies to the contrary. Flanking each side of the escutcheon is a supporter, which stands on a compartment usually grass, rocks, or the like. The supporters hold up the shield.

These can be animals, human figures, or sometimes plants or other decorative inanimate objects. Heraldic beasts like the lion symbolize fierce courage. Every design element on a coat of arms has a specific meaning, almost like another language. The template of the crest too has its own meaning, as do the shape of the lines that adorn it.

There are literally an infinite number of possible shield designs and meanings! The most important element of a shield is the common charges. These are generally animals or plants. These represented the identity of the family. At a glance, you could identify a knight on the battlefield. Their coat of arms is red and white military strength and truth , with four lions in each corner separated by a row of three sheafs of wheat on a black background; wheat symbolises fertility and bountifulness, and black is for wisdom, constancy and prudence. The Kelly coat of arms is particularly striking.

On a blue background blue meaning loyalty, chastity and faith , a castle is held up by two chains held by two lions, one on each side of the castle. The castle means safety and strength , the lions again are for fierce warriors, and the chains are a symbol of service. So, mighty warriors serve the great castle of Kelly.

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It features yellow, red, green, black and white colours, and four different animals; two lions, a snake, a deer and a boar. The snake stands in between the two lions and is held by a red hand, while the deer and boar stand alone below them in their own sections.

The boar, deer and snake all have strong Celtic associations, so this is a very historical crest. The Walsh crest is another with a red and white colour scheme. The shield shape is a chevron which has two meanings; both protection or roof, and died in battle! There is often a swan depicted on top of the shield, which in Ireland was regarded as the bird that bore the spirit of Celtic Chieftans into the afterlife.

As there are so many different branches of Smiths, there are a crazy number of different Smith crests.


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The most common in Ireland appears to be two or three arms holding a torch. In this case the torch signals zealousness and service while the depiction of the arm means an industrious person.

Five things to know about coats of arms

So the smiths were hard working, dedicated people. The front half of each lion is yellow while the back half is white, meaning that they are generous and truthful warriors. This is another relatively simple crest by comparison with some of the others. Like the Walsh crest it is in the chevron format and instead of three spearheads it features three white hands. The white hand symbolises faith, sincerity and justice. In Ireland it had a particular meaning of communicating through the ancient Ogham Language , and also signified the sun.

Irish families apparently really favoured the red and white colour scheme on their coat of arms, because the Ryan crest is another one that sports it. Against the red background are three white or silver griffin heads. The most popular is a green background symbolising abundance and loyalty and a single yellow lion.

How Family Crests Work

There is also a white background with a fruit tree, meaning freedom and peace, or a green background with a single white deer. All mean largely the same thing. On a white background, the bottom half of the crest features a white fish in blue water the fish being the Irish symbol for royalty , while the top half is a red hand on a white background.

At Claddagh Design, we design and handcraft contemporary Irish jewelry. See our custom Irish Family Crest Cufflinks or contact us to inquire about ordering your own family signet ring, bracelets or pendants.

Custom Jewelry Would you like to have a piece of Custom Jewelry created specifically for you? Tell us about it. You may also be interested in reading our earlier blog post Irish Family names and What they Mean? I had no idea that if you wanted to make a coat of arms in Ireland you had to go through the Chief Herald of Ireland. I can see why this would be important to be aware of if you are wanting to do it.

It seems like a good way to connect with the past. It has a Helmet on top of the shield with a crown that looks likes leaves coming all the way down on both sides of the sheild.

Can you help me figure out what it means. Family name is Buckley. Thank you. Hi Bethany, thanks for your comment. Is this possible — and if so, how much? Hi Ms Murphy, Anam Cara tie clip is a beautiful idea for your 30th wedding anniversary. I will drop you an email in just a minute with further info. Many thanks, Paula! Hehe, thanks appreciate it. The Murphy Family crest is great Ryan. Hi Linda, thanks for getting in touch!

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