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About Crests, Shields, and Coat-of-arms

The coat of arms is actually pretty simple. It consists of a shield of arms, usually with the addition of a crest borne upon a helmet, and upon the helmet rests a wreath. A flowing material known as mantling is typically attached to the helmet; it derives from the material used to protect the helmet and the head inside it from extreme heat of the sun. It is now solely decorative and can be used to great artistic effect. Frequently a motto is underneath the shield. The motto may vary considerably, while the shield usually remains relatively constant.

For a complete description of the "achievement of the arms," see this illustration. For more information on arms and heraldy, see Camelot International's The Language of Heraldry.

Do Arms Belong to Surnames?

A coat of arms does not belong to a specific surname. Coats of arms belong to individuals. People of the same surname can be entitled to completely different coats of arms, while many of that surname are not entitled to any coat of arms.

How to Obtain your Arms

According to the officialCollege of Arms, if you are a U.S. citizen, you may be granted honorary arms. "You must meet the same criteria for eligibility as subjects of the Crown, and in addition you must record in the official registers of the College of Arms a pedigree showing your descent from a subject of the British Crown. This may be someone living in the north American colonies before the recognition of American independence in 1783, or a more recent migrant."

For you to have a right to an official coat of arms, you must either —

  • Have had the arms granted to you, based on your general accomplishments, or
  • You must be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

For more information, see the official British College of Arms.