Heraldry is a fascinating thing. You see many family websites topped with crests or coat of arms or shields. They can provide cool stories about distant or even recent ancestors.

Many websites offer heraldry services to surnames where the new or naive researching the origins of their family name can get sucked into believing that they have a right to use that Coat of Arms, Crest, Shield or some other armorial bearing when in fact they do not. Education is the key here, and realizing that you can’t believe everything  you read on the WWW. Really, you can’t believe everything that you read on the WWW. (I know shocking! lol)

There is one problem, it’s a rather large problem, with those offers. I will get to that in a few moments. First I’m going to start with the definition of heraldry.

By Definition:

  1. the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated.
    • armorial bearings or other heraldic symbols.
    • colorful ceremony.
      “all the pomp and heraldry provided a splendid pageant”


“Devised, Described, and Regulated.”

“Devised, Described, and Regulated” tells the reader that what is being described is intentional, deliberate and controlled. The College of Arms, or any other group that is responsible for issuing Armorial Bearings, designs each one with intent. Every detail has a meaning assigned to it, right down to the colors used.

The biggest myth, or rather lie, is that every surname has a crest or coat of arms attached to it. Well let me take it from the College of Arms website that is responsible in the UK for the creation and issuance of all coats of arms, crests, shields and any other armorial bearings.

Q. Do coats of arms belong to surnames?

A. No. There is no such thing as a ‘coat of arms for a surname’. Many people of the same surname will often be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and many of that surname will be entitled to no coat of arms. Coats of arms belong to individuals. For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

When I do a search on “Surname coat of arms” the page of websites (And I’m sure many others after that) may have no way of knowing who the coat of arms they are using is actually for. The FAQ from the College of Arms website says it all.

I will use my family as an example.

One of my Great Grandfathers on my Father’s mother’s side (Roome) has a crest; (It might be called an Arms though I’m not entirely sure.)  It looks like a shield. This arms or crest would be passed to the eldest son, or oldest surviving son, and if no sons survived then it would go to the eldest daughter.

While I don’t understand everything, I do know that just because the crest or arms belonged to my ancestor does not mean I can claim it as mine or my family’s crest. It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. lol

In starting my research I knew that the Armorial Bearings I was coming across had special meaning. I found a coat of arms for each surname in my immediate family; I found the meanings and origins of each name. One day, however, in a fluke find I stumbled on the college of arm


I was horrified! I had been duped, and then passed that false information on to others in my family as well as friends. Some, if not all, of them don’t know so it’s about education.

My only suggestion, if you really want to top your website with a coat of arms, be careful. It’s not yours, it’s not your family’s and likely doesn’t belong to any of your ancestors.

The College of Arms is a bevy of information, they are the experts and can answer any questions you might have. Did you find something that you believe is connected to your family? Contact them, as they may be able to identify it.



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