I bet you’ve seen those fancy old designs and have wondered what they represent. What do these symbols on a coat of arms actually mean? Do they even really have a meaning associated with them?
The designs can be quite colorful and can contain all sorts of animals and objects. There’s so much packed in them and it will take a little while to explain all the different parts.
So, if you are interested in the symbols that make up a coat of arms then you are in the right place!
Meaning of symbols lost in time!
Coats of arms were granted hundreds of years ago. Their proper meaning therefore may have been lost in time. Even though the coat of arms was recorded the symbolic significance may not have been.
I will therefore try my best to list all of these different symbols and coloring, and what they mean. So, please read on as I will discuss as best as I can about their symbols and their meanings.
If you are interested in finding what your family coat of arms, or crest, looks like then please check out my Find My Family Coat of Arms post. There you will find resources where you can track down your coat of arms.
Topics discussed in this post:
- Colors, Arms and Symbol Meanings
- Celestial Beings and Crosses
- Flowers and Fruit
- Mythological Creatures
- Find My Family Coat of Arms
Acknowledgement: The images in this post have been kindly permitted by COADB.com.
* Please share with me below what you discover here! *
I would love to hear from you.
Colors, Arms and Symbol Meanings
The Colors Signify Qualities in a Person
First of all the different tinctures (or colors) that are used on a coat of arms can mean different things about who they represent.
The “fur” is a tincture consisting of a color set with a pattern of shapes.
- Argent (Silver or white) – Peace and sincerity
- Azure (Blue) – Truth and loyalty
- Furs (Ermine, ermines, erminois, vair, counter vair, pean, potent, counter potent) – Dignity
- Gules (Red) – Warrior or martyr; Military strength and magnanimity
- Or (Gold or Yellow) – Generosity and elevation of the mind
- Pupure (Purple) – Royal majesty, sovereignty, and justice
- Sable (Black) – Constancy or grief
- Sanguine or Murray (Maroon) – Patient in battle and yet victorious
- Tawny or Tenne (Orange) – Worthy ambition
- Vert (Green) – Hope, joy, and loyalty in love
The colors may also be formed in a number of different patterns. These usually take the form of a sash, a band running through an existing color.
The Arms Represent the Four Elements
The arms on a coat of arms here consists of shaped lines. They represent the four elements air, earth or land, fire, and water.
They can be found in the shield of the coat of arms.
- Dancette – Water
- Embattled – Walls of a fortress or town (also fire)
- Engrailed – Earth or land
- Indented – Fire
- Invected – Earth or land
- Nebuly – Clouds or air
- Raguly – Difficulties that have been encountered
- Wavy – Sea or water
Symbols Represent Each of the Father’s Sons
Symbols that are found within the shield of a coat of arms will signify the relationship to the original grantee, or father.
They are known as differences of marks of cadency. These can help you identify a particular branch of a family tree.
- Label – Eldest son
- Crescent – Second son
- Mullet (star) – Third son
- Martlet (bird) – Fourth son
- Annulet (ring) – Fifth son
- Fleur-de-lis – Sixth son
- Rose – Seventh son
- Cross moline – Eighth son
- Double quatrefoil (or octofoil) – Ninth son
Animals were also to be found on a coat of arms. They could be on the shield, on top of the helmet (the crest), or either side of the coat of arms (the supporters).
Fierce and ferocious animals were particularly chosen and were positioned in combat postures.
They tended to represent positive traits such as loyalty, resourcefulness or wisdom.
- Ant – Great labor, wisdom and providence in one’s affairs
- Ass – Patience and humility
- Bear – Strength, cunning, ferocity in the protection for family and friends
- Beaver – Industry and perseverance
- Boar or Boar’s head – Bravery and fights to the death. The head symbolizes hospitality
- Buck – Someone who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony
- Bull or Bull’s horns – Valor, bravery and generosity. The head symbolizes strength and fortitude
- Butterfly – Soul
- Camel – Docility, patience and perseverance
- Cat – Liberty, vigilance, forecast and courage
- Chough – Strategist in battle; watchful for friends
- Cock – Courage and perseverance; hero; able in politics
- Crane – Close parental bond; vigilance if holding a rock
- Cygnet – Where gorged with a crown around its neck this will signify dignity
- Deer (same as Stag) – Someone who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony
- Dolphin – Swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity and love
- Dove – Loving constancy and peace; the Holy Spirit; with an olive branch in its bill it signifies a harbinger of good tidings
- Duck – Resourcefulness
- Eagle – Person of noble nature, strength, bravery and alertness; or one who is high-spirited, ingenious, quick-witted, and judicious.
- Eagle displayed with wings spread – Protection
- Eagle (two headed) – Symbolizes conjoining forces
- Elephant – Great strength, wit, longevity, happiness, royalty, good luck and ambition
- Escallop (sea shell) – Traveller to far places or victorious naval commander
- Fish – A true, generous mind; virtuous for himself and not because of his heritage; also unity with Christ, spiritual nourishment
- Fox – Someone who will use all of their wisdom and wit in their own defence
- Gannet – Someone who has to subsist by virtue and merit
- Goat – Political ability
- Goose – Resourcefulness
- Grasshopper – Noble and home-bred
- Greyhound – Courage, vigilance and loyalty
- Hare – Someone who enjoys a peaceable and retired life
- Hawk or Falcon – Someone who does not rest until they have achieved their goal or objective
- Hedgehog – Provident provider
- Horse – Readiness for all employments for king and country
- Lamb – Gentleness and patience under suffering. A lamb carrying a staff or banner with a cross is a paschal lamb which represents faith, innocence, bravery, gentleness, purity and a resolute spirit
- Leopard – Valiant and hardy warrior who enterprises hazardous things by force and courage
- Lion – Dauntless courage
- Mule – Often borne by abbots and abbesses who have pastoral jurisdiction, but not real jurisdiction
- Mullet – Divine quality from above; mark of third son
- Ostrich – Willing obedience and serenity
- Otter – Someone who lives life to the fullest
- Ox – Valor and generosity
- Panther – Fierce but tender and loving to children and will defend her children with her life
- Peacock – Beauty, power and knowledge
- Pelican – Self-sacrifice and charitable nature
- Rabbit – Peaceable and retired life
- Ram – Authority
- Raven – Divine providence
- Rhinoceros – Ferocious when aroused
- Salamander – Protection
- Serpent or Snake – Wisdom
- Snail – Deliberation and perseverance
- Spider – Wisdom, labor and prudence
- Squirrel – Lover of the woods
- Stag – Someone who will not fight unless provoked
- Stag’s antlers – The antlers symbolize peace and harmony; strength and fortitude
- Stork – Filial duty; close parental bond; holding a rock; vigilance
- Swallow – Someone who is prompt and ready in doing business; also bringer of good news
- Swan – Poetic harmony and learning or lover thereof; signifies light, love, grace, sincerity and perfection
- Tiger – Fierceness and valour; resentment; dangerous if aroused
- Tortoise – Invulnerability to attack
- Wolf – Reward from perseverance in long sieges and/or hard industry
Celestial Beings and Crosses
Any form of cross that is found on the crest may indicate some Christian experience or sentiment.
There may also appear an angel or some other similar celestial being which will represent dignity, glory and honor.
- Angel or Cherub – Dignity, glory and honour; missionary; bearer of joyful news
- Cross – Faith; service in the Crusades
- Cross (Celtic) – Unity of heaven and earth
- Cross Crosslet (crossed at each end) – Signifies the fourfold mystery of the cross
- Cross Fitchée (cross pointed at base) – A combination of cross and sword; unshakeable faith
- Cross Flory (cross flowered at each end) – Someone who has conquered
- Cross Maltese (cross with eight points) – Blessings; badge of Knights Hospitaller
- Cross Moline – The mutual converse of human society (said to represent a millstone)
- Cross Pattée or cross formée (cross which has arms narrow at the centre) – Military honour
- Cross Raguly – Difficulties encountered
- Seraphim (angel with three pairs of wings) – Dignity, glory and honour; missionary; bearer of joyful news
Flowers and Fruit
Any flower that is found on a coat of arms will represent hope and joy. The appearance of fruit meanwhile will represent felicity and peace.
Certain flora will have a more specific meaning.
- Acacia branch or leaves – Eternal and affectionate remembrance
- Apple – Liberality, felicity and peace
- Bay leaves – Poet or victor’s laurel
- Berries – Liberality, felicity and peace
- Carnation – Admiration
- Civic Wreath (of oak leaves and acorns) – Someone who saved a fellow citizen’s life or shown patriotism in defence of someone’s native land
- Cypress – Death and eternal life thereafter
- Grapes – Liberality, felicity and peace; also associated with wine-making
- Holly – Truth
- Ivy – Strong and lasting friendship
- Laurel leaves – Peace and/or triumph
- Lily – Purity
- Marigold – Devotion and piety
- Oak tree, leaves or bush – Great age and strength
- Olive branch or leaves – Peace and concordance
- Pears – Felicity and peace
- Pine – Death and eternal life thereafter
- Pine cone – Life
- Pomegranate – Fertility and abundance
- Rose – Mark of cadency of seventh son
- Rose Red – Grace and beauty
- Rose White – Love and faith
- Shamrock – Perpetuity ; flower of Ireland
Occasionally mythological creatures did appear on a coat of arms and the crests. These held particular significance in heraldry.
- Centaur – Eminence in the field of battle
- Cockatrice – Terror to all beholders
- Dragon/wyvern (dragon with only two legs) – Valiant defender of treasure; valour and protection
- Griffin (head, wings, and talons of an eagle with the body of a lion) – Valor and death-defying bravery; vigilance
- Harpy (virgin’s face, neck and breast with the body of a lion) – Ferocity under provocation
- Hydra (dragon with seven heads) – Conquest of a very powerful enemy
- Mermaid – Eloquence
- Pegasus – Poetic genius and inspiration; messenger of God
- Phoenix – Symbol of resurrection
- Sphinx – Omniscience and secrecy
- Unicorn – Extreme courage; virtue and strength
Objects may have also featured anywhere on the coat of arms. They had many different meanings which added more uniqueness to the arms as well as identifying the person or family.
- Agricultural tools – Laboring in the earth and depending upon providence
- Anchor – Hope; religious steadfastness
- Anvil – Honor
- Arrow – Readiness for battle; if depicted with a cross this represents an affliction
- Axe (or Battle Axe) – Execution of military duty
- Banners – Special action in which bearer was captured, or a reward for valiant service
- Bar, Barry or Barrulet – Someone who sets the bar of conscience, religion and honor against angry passions and evil temptations
- Baton – Authority
- Bells – Power to disperse evil spirits. A hawk’s bells denotes one who was not afraid of signalling his approach in peace or war
- Bones – Mortality
- Book – Open – manifestation; closed – counsel
- Bow – Readiness for battle
- Bridge – Governor or magistrate
- Broom – Humilty
- Buckle – Victorious fidelity in authority
- Cannon and Cannon Balls – Someone who has dared the terror of such a weapon in battle
- Chains – Reward for acceptable and weighty service. With crowns and collars, this suggests the bearer bore the chain of obligation or obliged others because of services done
- Column – Fortitude and constancy; with serpent coiled around it this means wisdom with fortitude
- Cup (covered) – Office of the king’s butler
- Drum – Ready for war
- Feathers – Obedience and serenity
- Fleur-de-lis – Purity; light; floral badge of France; represents sixth son as mark of difference
- Flint – Readiness for zealous service
- Fountain – Water or a spring
- Grenade – Someone who has dared the terror of such a weapon in battle
- Hand/red hand – Pledge of faith, sincerity, and justice; two right hands conjoined represent union and alliance/mark of a baronet
- Harp – Well-composed person of tempered judgment; contemplation; mystical bridge between heaven and earth
- Horns – Strength and fortitude
- Horseshoe – Good luck and safeguard against evil spirits
- Hourglass – Flight of time; mortality
- Hunting Horn – Someone who is fond of the chase; of high spirits
- Keys – Guardianship and dominion
- Letters – May represent great battles or tournaments beginning with that letter
- Pen – Art of writing and educated employment
- Pipes – Festivity and rejoicing
- Plume of feathers – Sign of willing obedience and serenity of mind
- Portcullis – Protection in an emergency
- Rock – Safety and protection; refuge
- Saddle – Preparedness for active service
- Scallop shell – Traveller to far places or victorious naval commander
- Scythe – The hope of a fruitful harvest
- Ship – Sea voyages
- Skull – Mortality
- Sphere – Geographical or scientific reference
- Stirrup – Readiness for active service
- Sword/dagger/dart – Justice and military honour
- Table – Hospitality
- Tent – Readiness for battle
- Torch – Life; zealousness; engaging in signal service; truth and intelligence
- Trumpet – Ready for war
- Wheel – Fortune
- Wheel (Catherine) – Torture
Find My Family Coat of Arms – Where To Find Yours?!
By now you should know all about the symbols that are featured on a coat of arms. To find your family’s coat of arms you could check out the College of Arms in London, England, or the The American College of Heraldy in the United States.
Or why not check out the following sites and resources to find out yourself?
House of Names – Great Gifts Featuring Your Coat of Arms!
The House of Names website is your first choice if you want to discover your family’s coat of arms.
They can not only show you what your family’s arms looks like but they also sell cool products such as mouse pads, hats, jewelry, shirts, mugs and many more!
Why buy from House of Names?
- Free shipping is offered to residents of North America if the order is over $85 US.
- International shipping, however there is a delay of 5-10 weeks, so bare this in mind when ordering from overseas.
- All products are given a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so if you are not satisfied with the quality, condition or workmanship then you can return the product.
- Return shipping charges may apply unless there has been an order error or error in shipping.
Please note: This site will offer you a single coat of arms heraldry design for your surname. This is despite that arms are inherited through the family tree and symbols are usually added by descendants.
What can you discover from House of Names?
Research has been carried out since 1968 by the in-house team to deliver to you the oldest known version of your family’s coat of arms.
Bare in mind though that therefore there is no such thing as a unique coat of arms for a surname.
You can also find out the history of your surname, notable people with your last name, and different spellings of your name.
This is particularly useful for you if you want to find records about your ancestors but are not getting results.
What are the extras?
There is even a free section at the House of Names site. Here you can download coloring booklets, which is good to keep the kids entertained for hours, or even yourself for that matter.
There is also a blank family tree form so you can use that to trace your ancestry three generations back. And finally there is a Design your Coat of Arms booklet with 11 different designs.
You get to draw what you want in the shield. How cool is that?
Amazon – Two Excellent Books on Heraldry
I highly recommend these 2 books if you are interested in the world of heraldry. They both contain more than 200 pages and are fully illustrated.
And they both discuss the origins and the development of the coat of arms and its uses in the modern world.
The Illustrated Book of Heraldry: An International History of Heraldry and Its Contemporary Uses
A great introduction to heraldry. This book is full of information and a ton of colorful illustrations. Even if you do get stuck with some of the wording there is a glossary at the back that will help you.
So, if you want to know how coats of arms evolved over time then this book is for you.
Heraldry: Understanding Signs and Symbols
This is another go to book for anyone who is interested in heraldry. The complex imagery that make up a coat of arms is examined.
Modern day examples are given and are broken down, so you can see what each different part means.
COADB.com – Another Site Offering Great Products!
The COADB.com website contains nearly 1,000 different coats of arms. You can have your very own coat of arms on a T-shirt, mug, phone or tablet cover.
They also offer genealogy search packages that will help you with your family’s coat of arms.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed this article explaining what are the symbols on a coat of arms. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share with friends and family using the social media buttons below.
If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.