Meanings of Colors in a Coat of Arms

By July 18, 2017Family Crest
family colours and crest

What is a Family Crest or Coat of Arms?

The terms “coat of arms” and “crest” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two. Although, the differences may be considered minor and technical,  for anyone serious about the study of genealogy, the should be noted. The article below explains the difference as well as the meaning of colors in a coat of arms.

A crest is a device/object attached to the top of the helm (helmet). The coat-of-arms is the armiger’s device portrayed upon the shield. The crest is one component of a coat-of-arms, which can be used as a simplified symbol when the full coat-of-arms is too detailed e.g. on engraved cutlery. It should be noted,  families do not have crests, nor do they have coats of arms. Coats of arms, generally referred to only as “arms,” are granted to individuals and passed to the oldest son upon the father’s death.

A Coat of Arms has long been a symbol of a family’s identity and values. Originally used to identify warriors dressed in armor, each knight chose symbols and colors to represent his family or clan. These coats of arms have been passed down throughout generations.

Confusion between the privileged or right to have a coat-of-arms and the actual arms has to lead to an understandable wide-spread misapprehension. The actual coat-of-arms is the personal property of the holder.

The right to bear arms is heritable, so the sons and in some circumstances, daughters of the person who has had arms granted to them, can also use a coat-of-arms. However, only one person owns a particular coat-of-arms, so during his lifetime, sons use a slightly different version of the arms. Such differenced arms have extra charges added to the shield, the colors are changed, or some other modification is made. Only rarely is the crest part of the coat of arms modified, so all the sons have different coats of arms that include the same crest. In England at least, no crest has ever been granted that was not part of a coat of arms.

The colors in a coat of arms can be an important part of the identity and its particular details of utmost importance to historians, genealogists and those interested in heraldry.


Meanings of Colors in a Coat of Arms

The family crests of ancient families in history have all marked their unique symbols and colors in a coat of arms and crests. The meanings of colors in a coat of arms or family crest is often questioned. They do not just appear from nowhere; instead, they have all been designed keeping in mind many of the details about the ancient family history and their position in the society (which is why they have a crest in the first place).

The heraldry tradition which is the art of creating crests and coat of arms is not some modern invention; rather it dates back to 12th century. Designing and preserving these crests have been an art mastered by some designated people and groups which aimed to serve the tradition and to keep it alive through all times.

The crests are not just random symbols; each detail of them defines a message and the use of colors can never be overlooked in the famous crests of all times. Understanding one’s own family crest can be quite easy if the person has the understanding of the colors used in it. Each color below represent some meanings of colors in a family crest, which will give you an insight into the family itself. The colors in a coat of arms are an incredible voyage of discovery.


Red Colors in a Coat of Arms

This is one of the most common colors found in ancient family crests. Another poetic name for color red in crests is ‘Gules’ and is widely used in family crests of all times. Marked by military prowess, high spirit, and prestige, red is the most significant color and depicts strength and greatness.


Gold Colors in a Coat of Arms

Gold is also one of the most widely used colors in the famous family crests. The name given to gold in a coat of arms is ‘Or’- this is also named after the material used in the crests. Gold color ranges from sharp golden to yellow shades and it is used according to the need. The gold color symbolizes wisdom, generosity, and openness of the cognitive process.


Blue Colors in a Coat of Arms

Also known as ‘Azure’, blue signifies tranquility and peace when used in family crests just like it does in general terms. Blue is also associated with loyalty and obedience. If blue color is used in family crests, it means that the family is strong on its commitments and ties (refrains from disloyalty) and highly values honesty in all aspects of life.


Purple Colors in a Coat of Arms

Purple is widely associated with nobility and royalty even if one is painting a room. As for the use of color in family crests, purple is being given the name ‘Purpure’ and the reason why this color is considered more royal is that the dye was very expensive back in 18th century B.C; thus, it could only be afforded by the royal families and the wealthiest of the society. Purple also symbolizes justice, sovereignty, and temperance. Regulations, structure and strictly abiding by rules and the law is also what the shade Purpure signifies (all characteristics of royalty).


Maroon Colors in a Coat of Arms

Maroon is another of the common colors used in famous family crests. It symbolizes victory and fortitude (the courage and endurance in pain and times of adversity). Named as Murray or Sanguine in the language of crests, maroon has an image of strength and patience during wars.


Silver Colors in a Coat of Arms

The silver color is also known as ‘Argent’ in crest terminology and the clarity and shine of it is associated with the meanings such as sincerity, truth, and peace. The color silver in family crests also refers to innocence and tranquillity.


Green Colors in a Coat of Arms

Green is the color that symbolizes loyalty in love and joy. This color is also known as ‘Vert’ and is one of the widely used shades in famous coats of arms. Green color used in family crests symbolizes self-reliance and a balanced personality. Independence, optimism, and sense of right and wrong (good or bad) are also signified by this color. Verts although widely used is also considered by some to be rarest of heraldic colors.


Black  Colors in a Coat of Arms

Dark and deadly as it looks, black color has been portrayed when depicting the evil side of aristocracy whenever books are written or movies show the dark side wearing black and using crests with an abundance of the color black in them. In reality though, black (also known as ‘Sable’) signifies constancy and prudence. On the other hand, black represents mourning and grief too added with an air of mystery sometimes.


Orange Colors in a Coat of Arms

This is one of the colors used in family crests which are not very much used and are said to be the additions to the palette over time. However, orange is said to belong to the Red family and is also named as ‘Tawny’. Tawny symbolizes ambition, growth, optimism, and happiness. It is also linked with strong emotions and enthusiastic spirit.

The journey of learning one’s family history can be made interesting with the help of decrypting the meanings associated with each color in a family crest may contain.  Learning about not only one’s own but the famous family crests becomes very interesting and informative, keeping in mind more details about the actual history and meaning of colors used, and relating it with their crests.


That concludes the main discussion about colors in a coat of arms.


Leave a Reply