What Is A Family Crest?


Historically, families, clans, and people with a common ancestry have used different markings to identify themselves and differentiate themselves from others. One famous marking is a crest or family crest. The custom of using crests in medieval Europe dates as far back as the Middle Ages, before the age of the print media and, of course, the internet. 

The practice became even more popular when knights wore them to represent their clans or kingdoms at jousting competitions. Without seeing the knight’s face, spectators could tell where he came from or which clan or family he represented by just looking at his crest. The markings were boldly etched on their helmet, shield or armour.

Family Crest

Family crests are like a glance into the deep history of your family. In medieval times, noble families had them, and the crest was passed down from the father to the first born son of the family. This tradition is called cadency and was a thing of pride. If the father is still alive, a similar crest close to the original would be created for the son to prove that the child was also a part of the family.

Another unique connection with the crest is that people who used the same crest had the same last name. In feudal Europe, it was a normal practice to have one coat of arms or crest represent the value of the entire family. So when family members met in town for the first time, they automatically knew they were kin.

Although times have changed and family crests no longer have the same significance like they once did, some people have been able to transfer their bloodline by using a family crest.

It is Non Transferable

A family crest is non transferable, so sons who are not from the family cannot use them. Secondly, only the first born son beside the family head has the right to wear and use the crest, not the younger sons in the family. At the death of the father, the first son is allowed to use the original version. 

Furthermore, in some cultures, crests can be combined if couples from two noble families marry. Both families can merge crests to form a hybrid that the husband can wear and pass it to his first son.

Features And Meanings

The colors, symbols, shapes, and images on family crests have meanings; this is why in the olden days, by observing a crest, people could determine the foundations of a family. Let’s look at some of the common features in family crests and what they mean.


  • Silver/White: Peace and sincerity
  • Gold: Elevated mind or generosity
  • Green: Loyalty, hope, joy, and love
  • Blue: Loyalty and truth
  • Black: Grief and constancy
  • Orange: Ambition
  • Purple: Justice, royalty, and sovereign
  • Maroon: Patient but victorious in battle

Flowers And Meanings

  • Acacia: Remembrance and eternal affection
  • Bay leaves: Victors laurel
  • Apple: Peace and liberty
  • Cypress: Eternal life or death
  • Grapes: Peace, wine making
  • Oak tree:  Strength, Age
  • Olive Branch: Concordance and peace
  • Rose: (Red) Grace and beauty, (White) Love and Faith, Mark of the 7th son


In ancient times, animals played a key role in folklore and were common in family crests. In fact, it was almost impossible in some principalities to find crests of noble families without the image of an animal. Animals were used to project certain character traits, especially for war. Most noble families preferred to project traits like strength, loyalty, and honor. Here are common animal symbols.

  • Boar: Fight to the death, Bravery, Hospitality
  • Bear: Cunning, ferocious, strength, protector
  • Dolphin: Diligence, swiftness, love, charity
  • Dove: Peace, love, Holy spirit, good tidings
  • Eagle: Strength, bravery, alertness, nature, ingenious, quick witted, protection
  • Elephant: Longevity, royalty, great strength, good luck, happiness, ambition
  • Fox: Cunning, wisdom, self defense
  • Hawk/Falcon: Relentless, Pursuit of glory
  • Fish: Generous, virtuous, unity with Christ, spiritual nourishment
  • Horse: Service to the King/country
  • Lamp: Patience and gentleness under suffering
  • Lion: Courage, Ferocious
  • Panther: Fierce and in defense of offspring


Mythological Creatures And Meanings

Centaur: Glorious in battle

Dragon: (Two legs) Defender of treasure, protection, valour (seven heads), Conqueror of a powerful enemy

The symbols used for crests are too numerous to list, but the ones above were very popular in ancient times.

Family Crests In Modern Times

Today, some noble families and ruling houses still use crests. For instance, the English royal family still uses them, and so do counts, marquises, and members of the royal court. In fact, some of them have become even more popular than the family’s names, and anywhere they are spotted, they are recognized by the general public.

Final Thought

Family crests are images, emblems, or coats of arms used by families to differentiate themselves from other families. They were popularly used by clans and noble families. Due to their long history, many people in modern times have used them to trace their origin. Family crests are passed down from the father to the first son of the family.