Design a family crest, how it was created

How was the family crest created

A family crest, which is also referred to as a coat of arms, is usually associated with wealth and royalty. However, it’s not only reserved for the rich. In this article we’re going 900 years back in history to learn how the family crest was created.

Warriors and knights

During the Middle Ages, warriors and knights were dressed in very heavy armor. In order to distinguish friend from foe on the battlefield, they decorated their shields with a symbol. This is the period when heraldry was born.

Later, the symbols were also used on armor, helmets and saddle blankets. In the beginning, every warrior had his own unique crest, but by the middle of the 12th century, family crests were inherited by their children. This is how the family crest was created. Sons were allowed and expected to use their fathers crests in battle. Daughters were allowed to use the family crest, but there were not allowed to pass it on to their children.


It didn’t take long before family crests became very important, and in the 13th century they were widely adopted by cities, guilds, states and kingdoms. Family crests were used on important documents, banners and even tombstones. The rules that applied to these crests were documented in the heraldry. This heraldry is typically European, but was later adopted by Africa, Canada, America, Asia and Australia. Heraldry can be defined as the art of creating, granting and blazoning arms. In order to quickly identify a family crest, heraldry only distinguishes seven colours, and makes to distinction in exact size or placement.


Family crests were usually designed by heralds. During the early years, very simple and bold shapes were used to paint on a warrior’s shield. This made sense because they could be easily recognized from a long distance, and they were easy to remember. The heralds also documented all crests in a book. In times of war, it was their job to create a list of all knights that would ride into battle. That way they could easily identify all the knights that were killed. As family crests became more widely used and their purpose was not just identification on the battlefield, they started to become more complex. Today, artistic styles range from very simple to extremely complex.


Family crests continue to flourish in modern times. In most European countries, especially in England and Scotland, there are very strict rules concerning the use of a family crest. Each country has its own institution for granting and registering family crests. Many view heraldry as a part of their personal heritage.

How to design a family crest

A family crest always consist of a shield with helmet, crest and dress. The armor-bearer of the name is always independently standing under the shield.

When you are creating a new crest, it will always be undivided. From a historical prespective, the use of divisions on a new crest is incorrect. Divisions indicate alliances, such as a marriage of an heiress, the last of her family. There are opportunities for divisions, however this must be the same in each field. See visual.



  • keep it simple, originally the crest was designed to be recognized from a large distance
  • use the colors azure (blue), keel (red), vert (green), sable (black) and one metallic color (silver or gold)


  • In family crests no words or letters are used
  • Using too many colors or signs

Your family hasn’t got a family crest yet? Why don’t you start a contest?