There is a lot of history behind family crests, or coat of arms. In some areas of the world these were only designed for the wealthy or nobles. In others it was created by the head of the household to distinguish his family line over others with the same name. It is possible to purchase a registered family crest by searching data bases in the U.K., U.S. and Scotland or to research genealogical websites and find common crests used for specific surnames. It is also possible to design an entirely unique crest that will represent the family as it is today.
Understanding the Basic Crest
A family coat of arms has several basic components. These individual parts include the shield, the mantling and the helm and wreath. Some, but not all, also include a crest. Colors, animals or other artwork and mottoes are all additional choices to make. The designer must also select the type of metal to be used and what designs (called charges) to add to the shield.
Choosing Shield and Helm
Shield shapes vary and most designers select the shape that is distinctive of the geographical area where they or their ancestors were born. The helm or helmet is displayed at the top center of the shield. This is often based solely on aesthetic preference, but can include a reference to military rank or a particular time period.
Adding Mantle and Wreath
The wreath is a design that sits above the shield. It is in six parts and made to look like a twisted rope. The single main color and the metal are traditionally used in an alternating pattern along the rope. The mantle is a decorative design that wraps around the sides of the shields. It is often depicted in a pattern that resembles leaves, but any decorative design that drapes the sides of the shield is acceptable.
Selecting Crests and Colors
The crest is the symbol that appears above the helm and often include animals like lions or stags. Eliminating it entirely from design is acceptable, if desired. Colors are chosen by meaning. For example, red is generally a color of strength or military achievement and gold generosity. There are many charts that define the colors slightly differently, so the final choice should include whatever the designer prefers.
Including Motto and Name
A banner across the top of the shield lists the motto for the family and one below the shield will display the family name. Most people will generally stick with the traditional family motto if it is known, but when designing something entirely unique it is acceptable to choose one that has personal meaning.
It is possible to register a coat of arms once it is complete. The designer of the crest can register it either in the United States or with the country of their heritage if a registry in that country currently exists. There is also an international database as well. Once the coat of arms is complete in its design there are many companies that are happy to convert the artwork to a decorative plaque for display. For more information, contact companies like Heraldry & Crests.