What's in a name? For those of us living in the United States, our surnames are our history and a great source of pride. Americans' backgrounds and ancestries are very diverse, and originate from many other countries. From the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the influx of immigrants in the late 1800's and early 1900's, we have the ability to trace our heritage and discover just who we are and where we came from.
Most of us descended from poor, working-class people who came to this country in search of a better life. They worked hard to make a living and were proud to be in America but at the same time the "old country" and customs remained an important part of their daily lives. We've all heard the stories about how some of the more complex surnames were shortened and "Americanized" as these immigrants passed through Ellis Island. You can be sure that even with their edited names, these people never forgot their given names, or their heritage.
There are those who have discovered that they are descended from foreign royalty or from a long line of great warriors. While this probably didn't make their new life in America any easier, it surely must have added an even greater sense of pride in their family histories.
Whatever the case, tracking your family surname and discovering your family crest and coat of arms can be a rewarding endeavor. There are many web sites to assist in your search. Some have a stock of more common surnames and crests and some do all of the research individually. There is usually a charge for the research and to receive the actual printed literature of your surname origin, it's meaning, and the family crest and coat of arms.
Once received, you have many options to display your family crest. In medieval times, the family's crest was painted onto a wood or metal shield used in battle. This served not only as protective device, but also to delineate between the sides involved, so that the warriors on each side would be identifiable to each other. The heraldry, meaning the actual display of the crest, could also define the fighter's rank, and his right to bear arms.
These customized medieval shields are still available today. There are a variety of options, from the Family Crest (just the shield-shaped portion) or the entire Coat of Arms with all of the flourishes surrounding the crest included. The family name can be added on a banner across the top or bottom and a family motto can also be included, either in the language of origin or in its English version. Each section of the Coat of Arms has been meaning, from the designs on the crests, to the type of flourishes, to the figure at the top. These specify the heritage of each particular surname.
What better way to show your pride in your family heritage than with a bold heraldry display on a medieval style shield? They are different, they make a great gift, and they add a unique touch to the decor of any room.
Art Allen is a Medieval Armor buff and design consultant for several online companies and an armor replica importing firm based in the US.