Original art and prints created from my artwork.

Original art and prints created from my artwork.

Is there a difference in a family crest and a coat of arms?

The meanings of words change over time. The meanings of the terms “family crest” and “coat of arms” were quite different in the past but now seem to be used interchangeably. Most heraldry enthusiasts prefer to call these artworks coats of arms.

 


Historically, the “crest” indicated the top portion of an armorial achievement, or the part of the drawing typically  above the helmet. Crests were often personalized for the individual who was awarded the arms. Common crests included lions, birds, trees, and more, and made up part of the whole armorial achievement.

In the past, a “coat of arms” referred to a garment that a person could wear. It included emblems to identify that person. Since a knight was covered in armor during an event or in battle, a coat of arms functioned like a modern-day sports jersey; it provided information that would help other people identify them.

Some governments and offices still award and register arms to individuals and companies.  You can register an official coat of arms in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and even Canada. Most people in the US don’t have a “real” coat of arms. Most companies that sell information and images of coats of arms are selling pieces reproduced from historical records of people with the same last name.  If more than one person had been awarded arms, there might even be several artworks out there for any given name.

My artworks are not official coats of arms. They are not registered with or regulated by any college of arms or armorial register. I often call my artworks family crests because I hope to celebrate family with these heraldic-inspired pieces.  

My works celebrate our connection to family through the pomp and pageantry of a different era.  I often draw from vintage pieces and reinterpret them to create new meanings. You can call them family crests, coats of arms, armorial achievements, or heraldic art, but I hope you will call them unique, beautiful, and personal.

Can you find my family crest?

 Conjugal coat of arms by Jamie Hansen

Conjugal coat of arms by Jamie Hansen

 
 

Can you research a coat of arms for my family?

Most people in the US don't have a registered coat of arms. The companies that sell information based on your last name or surname are selling coats of arms reproduced from historical records of people who have the same last name.

People who share a variant of your last name might have been awarded coats of arms in the past.  There might even be several out there for your name, because several people were awarded arms.  The companies generally sell an image of the oldest one on record.

Without the help of genealogical records, there's not a way for me to confirm that you were actually descended from the person who was awarded that coat of arms in the past.  I create artworks inspired by coats of arms, but I do not conduct genealogical or heraldic research.