How to Choose the Symbols on a Family Crest

Written by liz macmillan
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How to Choose the Symbols on a Family Crest
Each symbol of the family crest is meaningful. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Even if you can't trace your family history back to the Middle Ages, you can still design your own family crest by choosing your own symbols. Many of the symbols that represent animals, birds, flowers, weapons and other well-known objects have special significance in the context of family crests, so it's important to choose symbols that are meaningful to you and your family.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Think about where your family originally came from. Some common symbols representing specific locations include the fleur-de-lis (France), shamrock (Ireland), thistle (Scotland), red rose (Lancaster, England) and white rose (Yorkshire, England).

  2. 2

    Choose a symbol based on a profession that is common in your family. The symbol can reflect an occupational last name (like Miller, Cooper or Fisher), or a trade that is common in the family. Examples include the anvil (blacksmith), agricultural tools (farmer), axe or halberd (military) and the caduceus symbol (medicine).

    How to Choose the Symbols on a Family Crest
    The caduceus is a symbol of medicine. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Consider the role that religion plays in your family. Symbols that reflect Christianity include the anchor (a symbol of hope), the cross and Catherine's Wheel, the symbol of the martyr St. Catherine that represents undergoing trials in the name of faith.

  4. 4

    Choose a symbol based on the traits of animals. Animals have traditionally symbolised positive personal attributes and qualities. Examples include the lion (courageous), beaver (industrious), bear (protective), elephant (strong), fox (clever), lamb (gentle) and peacock (proud).

    How to Choose the Symbols on a Family Crest
    The lion represents courage. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  5. 5

    Think about whether your family has a strong history of military service. Military service can be acknowledged with symbols of weapons such as axes, swords, spears, cannons, bows and arrows, as well as drums, trumpets, fifes and flags.

  6. 6

    Consider a symbol of the sea, if your family has strong ties to the sea, whether through seafaring professions or proximity to the ocean. Choose symbols such as the sea horse (which represents the power of water), the sea lion (courage at sea) and of course ships, which represent sea voyages. A ship with no mast represents a disaster at sea. The sea and water are also represented by wavy lines.

    How to Choose the Symbols on a Family Crest
    Ships represent the sea, while the fleur-de-lis is a well-known French symbol. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  7. 7

    Consider mythological symbolism. Mythical animals add a touch of mysticism or magic to a coat of arms. Two examples are the allerion, a beakless eagle that represents authority and willpower, and the firebird or phoenix, a symbol of resurrection.

  8. 8

    Think about birth order. There are symbols that indicate the birth order in the family of the person wearing the crest. The firstborn, for example, would wear a symbol called the label, which resembles an "E" with the three points facing downward. The second-born wore a crescent, the third-born a star, and the fourth-born a martlet (a stylised swallow with feathers instead of legs).

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