Even after a coat of arms had become hereditary, it was common to have a son add something to his coat of arms so that it would not be identical to his father's. Often a son would add a "mark of cadence," which is a particular emblem to note his birth order. But he could also add any marks of office he may have achieved, or special awards he might have been granted. It was not unheard of to completely change your coat of arms. For example, King Richard I changed his from two lions combatant to three gold leopards.
Creating a coat of arms can become a complicated thing depending on how detailed and how deep you want to go. There are some rules to follow, but there's also a lot of freedom. I plan to break the process down into several steps. Hopefully that will help make everything more understandable, and it will also give you time to work on each step as I present it.
Step 1: Choose Your Symbols
In choosing symbols ("charges") for your own coat of arms, you can take several factors into consideration. You might play off your family name, especially if you know the meaning of it. In my case this was easy, with a married name of Lyons. I could have chosen any number of lion poses or colors, but I chose to go with a historical version of the coat of arms for the Irish Lyons name (shown at right). The red emblem in the center is called a label, and it's the mark of cadence for a firstborn. I added this myself, since my husband is the firstborn of his family.
I had also been given a copy of the coat of arms for my maiden name, Nicodemus (shown at left). I could have gone with the meaning of the name, which is "leader of the people." I could have chosen some symbol to represent that. However, I decided to utilize the historical version, together with the historical Lyons version, for a combined image (shown at top). The lion sitting above the helmet (in the image at top) is the "crest" part of a coat of arms. I chose this because it's an actual part of the historic Irish Lyons coat of arms. One change I made to this crest was to put a cross in the lion's paw instead of a fleur-de-lis.
There are several websites that will show you the symbols in the coat of arms connected with your family name. Not all family names are available, but it's worth looking into. Here are a couple of the best sites that I have found:
Other options you can use, besides your family name, are to choose a symbol that tells something about your profession or something about your character. Here your choices are nearly limitless. A good website with an extensive list of symbols and their meanings can be found here:
There are limitations and rules as to what colors you can use. I will present those rules in my next post.
I welcome any questions you might have, and I would be happy to assist you in finding the historical coat of arms for your family name (at no charge). I have a fairly extensive database that might have more options than what you'll find at any of the sites above. Simply contact me by way of a comment to this blog entry. Along with your last name, give me its nationality, and I'll see what I can do.