Coat of arms symbols and meanings are a very important part of the heraldic process. As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, coats of arms and family crests aren’t exactly the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably in the common vernacular. In fact, the crest is only one element–albeit an essential one–that makes up a traditional coat of arms.
A family crest typically sits atop the helm or helmet in a coat of arms (if they’re included) and is very often some time of animal. If you’re planning your coat of arms design, you may be thinking about including an animal for your own crest and wondering which animal bears the right type of meaning for your purposes.
To help with this process, we’ve decided to list out some of the animals that have historically appeared on family crests, along with their traditional meanings. Also, it’s worth noting that in the heraldic world, it’s proper to refer to your family crest animal as a “beast.” Kind of fun, right?
Common Family Crest Beasts And Their Meanings
|Boar (Wild Pig)||Indicates ferocity, a fighter to the death|
|Dragon||Indicates a valiant defender of the weak|
|Horse||Indicates readiness for duty|
|Peacock||Indicates pride and beauty|
|Dove||Indicates a dedication to peace and love|
|Wolf||Indicates perseverance in adversity|
|Snake||Indicates renewal, fertility, and wisdom|
|Fish||Indicates bravery, royalty, and science|
|Dog||Indicates fidelity, courage, and loyalty|
|Leopard||Indicates endurance and valiance|
Other Things That Can Serve As A Family Crest
Remember that choosing a heraldic charge for your family crest need not be limited to the animal kingdom, though there are many different birds, beasts, fish, reptiles, and creatures of the sea to choose from. If you don’t feel that a beast can accurately represent your family values, you might want to consider some of the other coat of arms symbols and meanings below.
Human Figures – In some traditional family crests, the beast was replaced with the depiction of a certain human (usually religious in nature) or a human body part. These included the Virgin Mary, the Figure of Justice, a Mermaid, Neptune or Triton, or an Angel or Cherub. When it comes to including body parts, pretty much anything is fair game so long as it’s meaningful in some way. The head, hands, arms, feet, teeth, tongue, heart, breast, beard, and testicles were all popular body parts to depict on family crests!
Plants – When it comes to including symbols that aren’t human or animal, trees, fruit, crops, and flowers were commonly used. Take a look at some of their meanings below:
|Acorn||Indicates independence and strength|
|Berries||Indicate liberality, felicity, and peace|
|Cypress Tree||Indicates death and eternal life|
|Fleur-de-lis (lily)||Indicates light, hope, and joy|
|Grapevine||Indicates strength and friendship|
Inanimate Objects – Don’t worry if the meanings of these flora and fauna aren’t the coat of arms symbols you’re looking for. It’s also completely possible to create a family crest using inanimate objects as well! Some possibilities for this category include an anchor (symbolizing salvation and hope), an anvil (symbolizing honor), a book (symbolizing learning and knowledge), and a castle (symbolizing spiritual strength, vigilance, home, and safety).