Coats of Arms With a Modern Twist?

Written By: Jennifer L Gordon


Coats of Arms and Heraldry have a rich history all over the world. Many people tend to relate it to ancient and / or royal families, mostly outside of the United States. Yet, with the explosion of ancestry studies and the emergence of sites all over the internet offering free and paid subscription information about family history, Heraldry and Coats of Arms have started coming back into light and being displayed by societies, universities, families, as well as individuals.



The 21st century continues with Coats of Arms being used by a variety of institutions, societies, and individuals. For example, European cities and universities continue to have rules and regulations on how their Coats of Arms may be used. The modern societies that exist also help in the design and registration of Coats of Arms. There are nations, such as England and Scotland, which still maintain the same heraldic authorities that have traditionally regulated, as well as granted, arms for centuries and still continue to do so.

Another example of how Heraldry / Coats of Arms still flourish in the modern world is in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Scotland’s Lord Lyon King of Arms, the English Kings of Arms, and the Chief Herald of Ireland all continue to work with the granting of arms. There are current heraldic authorities in Canada, Africa, Australia, the Americas, and Europe that grant or register Coats of Arms. Countries with heraldic authorities are governed by particular laws. They often grant rights and possession to bear arms as well as protection against mistreatment of the Arms by others. Yet, countries without heraldic authority to grant arms tend to treat Coats of Arms in much the same way as symbols or logos. And, many may not know that they may be protected under copyright laws if registered appropriately because of it.



Coats of Arms have evolved over time, and many people and institutions use them today. In particular, colleges and universities use coats of arms. They have very careful rules and regulations about how they may be used and who may use them. Coats of Arms belong to the tradition of heraldry, which refers to the design and display of the arms. A prime example of this Harvard University. Their Coat of Arms includes twenty-seven arms, which represents such academic units of the University as Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, the graduate schools and the various College Houses. This can be seen on their site: http://asklib.law.harvard.edu/a.php?qid=37308.



It seems that people see Heraldry and Coats of Arms as a part of their national and personal heritages. Today, it is not so much a worldly expression of aristocracy, but more of a form of identification and ancestrial pride. Even though the practice of Heraldry / Coats of Arms is almost 900 years old, it is still very much alive in modern day throughout many cities and towns in Europe and around the world. Personal heraldry, whether protected legally and assumed lawfully, has continued to be displayed around the world. Heraldic societies and sites are still around today in order to promote education and understanding about Hearaldry and Coats of Arms. Anyone interested can start with the International Heraldry website and go from there.

Can a family have more than one coat of arms?

Written By: Jennifer L Gordon


A common question today, especially with the explosion of ancestry and genealogy online, has become – Does my family have a “family” coat of arms? Unfortunately, research shows that except for a few cases, there is really not a catch-all “Coat of Arms” for a surname. Strange as it may seem, there are literally hundreds of web sites on the Internet that will state otherwise. And, if you find one, it may not be exactly what one may think. Many people over the years have used Coats of Arms as a display without giving much reasoning to their accuracy of their design or even their right to use them. Plus, a Coat of Arms is often mistaken for a “Family Crest” by some, causing further confusion and often mislabeled family history.


Although not often believed, Coats of Arms were given to a single person. Most tend to think or believe they were granted to a particular surname or an entire family. Coats of Arms are considered inheritable property, and they usually are passed down to male lineal descendants. So technically, one would know if their family has a “Coat of Arms” because it would have been inherited and they would already have it.

Doing Your Homework

In order to learn if a Coat of Arms was awarded to a particular ancestor, first researching the family tree back to the ancestor believed to have been granted it is necessary. Next, contact the College of Arms or appropriate authority for the country the ancestor was from and request a search in their records; which normally includes a service fee. Another way to see if a surname has a Coat of Arms, one may consult a number of sources including, the Heraldry Index of the St. Louis Public Library, Polska Encyclopedia, Rietstap’s Armorial, Diccionario Heraldico y Nobiliario, Siebmacher’s Wappenbuch, Burke’s General Armory, Book of Irish Families Great & Small to name a few.

Another important item!
to remember is that if a product or scroll is seen with a family Coat of Arms with a surname, remember that just because the surname, such as SMITH, may be present, it does not allow one the right to any of the hundreds of Coats of Arms created throughout history by others named with that same surname. These companies may or may not have done their research which means the particular family may not be connected in any way and not have inherited the right to display that particular Coat of Arms.


In saying all of this, little seems to be known about modern day Coats of Arms unless a particular family kept good records and have handed down the documentation from generation to generation. An important lesson to remember is that one should not display a family Coat of Arms unless they have documentation or are willing to answer a lot of unanswerable questions. It also does not seem to be evident that a family has acquired more than one Coat of Arms from any documentation on the internet. But, one thing is clear; the research of Coats of Arms and their need, desire, and usage in modern day continues to thrive.

Greek Heraldry – A Lesser Known History

Written By: Jennifer L GordonGreek Heraldry, though not as developed as other countries, has an interesting history. This has been stated as not well known, possibly because it was almost completely exterminated during the Ottoman rule of the Greek … [Continue reading]

Symbols and Meanings on Coat of Arms

Written By: Jennifer L GordonAlthough many countries have used Coats of Arms over time and they have evolved, many of the symbols and meanings have continued to be globally known and utilized. The opinions and interpretations between … [Continue reading]

Burke’s Peerage and Gentry International Register of Arms – An Introduction

Written By: Jennifer L GordonIntroduction / Background John Burke founded Burke's Peerage in 1826 under British Parliament. The background and history of that society can be found at the Burke's Peerage site. Their current website, Armorial Register, … [Continue reading]