History of Family Insignias

Family insignias have been an integral part of human history for centuries. These symbols, used as representations of a family or individual, have evolved through various cultures and periods, each with their own unique meanings and significance. The use of family insignias dates back to ancient times, where they were used as a means of identification and recognition. As society progressed, these insignias became more elaborate and symbolic, representing various aspects of the family and their accomplishments. In this article, we will explore the history of family insignias, their evolution, and the meanings behind these symbols.

What are Family Insignias?

Family insignias, also known as family crests or coat of arms, are symbols that represent a particular family or lineage. These symbols were traditionally used in feudal societies to distinguish one noble house from another. Insignias were often displayed on shields, flags, and other paraphernalia to identify individuals and to show allegiance.

Family crests are typically made up of various elements, including animals, colors, symbols, and shapes. These elements can have various meanings and are often unique to the family they represent. For example, the eagle is often used to symbolize strength and nobility, while the lion represents courage and bravery.

While family crests were traditionally associated with noble families, anyone can create their own family insignia to represent their identity and values. Creating a personal family crest can be a fun and creative way to connect with your heritage and express your individuality.

There are many resources available today to help individuals design their own family crest, including online tools and professional designers. When designing a family insignia, it’s important to consider the materials, colors, and symbols used, as well as any historical significance associated with your family’s heritage.

Whether you’re creating a new family crest or researching the history and stories behind famous family insignias, there is a wealth of information and resources available to explore. Understanding the importance and meaning behind family crests can help bring a deeper sense of connection and pride to your personal identity and family history.

Why were Family Insignias Important?

Family insignias were important for various reasons throughout history. Here are a few significant reasons why family insignias mattered:

Social Rank: During the medieval period, family insignias represented social rank and status. It was a visual sign of the family’s noble lineage and aristocracy.
Identification: Family insignias also acted as identification marks in battles. Knights and soldiers wore colorful coats of arms on their shields, armor, and banners to differentiate themselves from the enemy.
Legacy: Family insignias served as a way to pass down family legacy and heritage. The design and symbols used in the crest represented the achievements, values, and personality of the family.
Symbolism: Family insignias were infused with symbolism and meaning. Each color, symbol, and animal depicted had a specific connotation, representing the family’s beliefs, virtues, and aspirations.
Artistic Expression: A family’s crest represented their artistic taste and creativity. The coat of arms had to be designed in a visually appealing way while keeping its symbolism intact.

These were some of the reasons why family insignias played a crucial role in the past. Today, families still create and use family insignias for various purposes. Check out our Create Your Own Family Insignia page to design a unique and meaningful crest for your family.

Ancient Family Insignias

Ancient Family Insignias

In ancient times, family insignias were used to symbolize different aspects of family identity, such as social status, ancestry, and occupation. These emblems were often made of materials such as metal, stone, or wood, and were used to mark belongings, clothing, and other objects.

One of the earliest forms of family insignias were known as family crests, which originated in medieval Europe. These crests were unique designs displayed on helmets or shields in battles, and were used to identify armies, knights, and noblemen. Over time, these crests became a symbol of family identity, and started being used in various forms of art, such as tapestries, engravings, and manuscripts.

Ancient Greeks and Romans also used symbols to represent their families. These symbols were often linked to mythology or religion and were placed on coins, buildings, and items of clothing. The eagle was one of the most commonly used symbols in Ancient Roman families, while the owl was commonly used in Ancient Greek families.

In Ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs were used as family insignias. These were intricate images that were engraved onto walls, coffins, and other important items. Each symbol had a specific meaning, and some families would create elaborate designs to represent their heritage and wealth.

Similarly, in China and Japan, family insignias were also used to represent social status and ancestry. These insignias were known as “jia pu” in China and “kamon” in Japan. The designs used in these insignias were often inspired by nature, such as dragons, birds, and flowers.

Ancient family insignias were a vital aspect of family heritage and identity. They were often made of a wide range of material and were intricately designed to symbolize different aspects of the family’s identity. These ancient emblems continue to have a significant impact on family symbolism today.

Origins of Family Crests

The origins of family crests can be traced back to medieval Europe. Initially used by knights for identification purposes, coats of arms quickly became a symbol of familial pride and heritage. One of the earliest recorded uses of a family crest dates back to the 11th century in England, where a knight named Toustain Le Blanc was granted a coat of arms depicting an ermine spot. From then on, family crests and heraldry became an integral part of medieval life.

Family crests were often designed using animals, plants, and mythological creatures, which were believed to represent the family’s traits and characteristics. Lions, eagles, and dragons were commonly used in family crests as they were seen as symbols of power and bravery. Other designs included trees, flowers, and other natural elements that symbolized the family’s connection to the land.

Over time, the use of family crests spread beyond knights and nobility and became a way for common folk to show their pride in their ancestry and lineage. As a result, the designs and elements in family crests became more diverse, often incorporating regional and cultural symbols. For example, Scottish clans often used thistles and Celtic knotwork in their crests, while Welsh families often included dragons.

Today, the use of family crests has evolved. Many families still use traditional designs and symbols, but others have reinvented their crests to reflect their modern values and beliefs. The practice of creating and using family crests is no longer limited to Europe, and many cultures around the world have their own traditions of creating and displaying family insignias.

Want to learn more about the animals and symbols commonly used in family crests? Check out our article on animal symbolism in family insignia.

Ancient Greek and Roman Symbols

Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the family name is of great significance, that’s why they created symbols to represent their family lines.

In ancient Greece, families used symbols to display their history, achievements, and social status. Herakles knot, olive branches, and myrtle wreaths were some of the most common symbols associated with family insignias. Families could also use animal symbols such as eagles or lions to show their strength and power.

In ancient Rome, the family symbol, known as the sigil, was often used as a seal to verify documents. The Roman family symbol was typically composed of letters and symbols that had a deep meaning for the family’s history and values. For example, the family of Julius Caesar had an elephant in their sigil, representing his military success in battle.

The laurel wreath was another popular symbol in ancient Rome, often associated with victory and achievement. It was given to the gladiators in the Coliseum, and also used as a symbol of winning in Roman politics.

Both Greeks and Romans were inspired by nature, and this was reflected in their family symbols. Oak trees, olive branches, and laurel wreaths were all associated with peace, strength, and victory.

Family insignias were an essential part of ancient Greek and Roman cultures, and they served as a crucial element in family identity. Even today, many families continue to use ancient symbols in their family insignias, passing down their history and values from generation to generation.

Egyptian Hieroglyphic Symbolism

Egyptian hieroglyphic symbolism is one of the oldest and most intricate forms of family insignias. These symbols were used to represent a variety of objects, ideas, and beliefs and were often used as a form of decoration. In Ancient Egypt, family insignias were known as “cartouches” and were used to denote the names of the pharaohs, as well as their titles and other important information.

One example of an Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol used in family insignias is the “ankh” symbol, which represents eternal life. This symbol is often seen in cartouches and was used as a way to signify the importance of a family’s legacy. The “crook and flail” is another popular symbol used in family insignias and was a symbol of authority and power. Pharaohs often carried these symbols, and they were passed down to their family members as a way of showing their authority and leadership.

The “djed” symbol, a pillar-like symbol, was often used to represent stability and strength, and was a popular symbol in family crests. Another popular symbol was the “scarab beetle”, which was a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. The beetle was seen as a representation of the sun god, Ra, and was often used in family insignias as a way of showing a family’s connection to the sun and their belief in the afterlife.

Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols were intricate and complex, and many families would combine different symbols to create a unique family crest. These crests were often passed down from generation to generation, and were seen as a way of preserving a family’s history and traditions.

Egyptian hieroglyphic symbolism played an important role in the evolution of family insignias. These symbols were used to represent a family’s beliefs, history, and legacy, and were an important part of Ancient Egyptian society. Today, many families still use Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols in their family crests as a way of honoring their heritage and preserving their family history. To learn more about other famous family insignias stories, click on the link: Famous Family Insignias Stories.

Chinese and Japanese Family Insignias

In Chinese culture, family insignias were called zupu (族谱) and were used to record and preserve the genealogy of a family. These insignias were usually depicted with a particular animal or object that represented the family’s virtues or achievements. For example, the royal family in ancient China had a dragon as their family insignia, as the dragon symbolized power and good fortune. In contrast, the common people would often have a turtle or a bird as their family insignia.

Similarly, Japanese family insignias, or kamon (家紋), were also used to represent a family’s identity. These insignias were mainly used by the noble and samurai class during the feudal period in Japan. Like the Chinese, Japanese family insignias were also made up of specific designs, shapes and colors. Each design had a particular meaning associated with it. For example, a circle with a single dot in the center symbolized the sun and the Imperial family, while a flower with six petals often represented a noble family.

Both Chinese and Japanese family insignias were made using a variety of materials. For example, they could be embroidered onto clothing or carved onto furniture. In Japan, samurai families would wear their insignias on their clothing or their armor to display their family identity and loyalty to their lord.

Although family insignias were initially used to represent a family’s identity, they eventually became a sign of their social status as well. In Japan, the more intricate and complex the design, the higher the social status of the family. Because of this, some families would even change their insignia if they rose in social status.

Today, family insignias are still important in China and Japan, with some families still using their traditional designs. However, the use of family insignias has become less common over time, with many families opting to use their family name or a specific symbol instead.

Medieval Family Insignias

During the medieval period, family insignias became even more important as a way to identify knights and nobles on the battlefield. Here are some key aspects of medieval family insignias:

The feudal system of the Middle Ages contributed significantly to the development of heraldry and family insignias. The system was based on a hierarchy of lords, vassals, and knights, with each person owing fealty to someone of higher rank, all the way up to the king. Heraldry allowed each person to identify themselves and their allegiances using a coat of arms.

Coats of arms were a type of family insignia that became popular in the medieval period. They typically featured a shield with various symbols and charges, such as animals, plants, and geometric shapes. Each charge had a specific meaning and often represented a family’s history, values, or achievements. For example, a lion represented bravery, while a tree symbolized longevity and strength.

Colors were also an important part of medieval family insignias, with each having a specific meaning. For example, red represented courage and strength, while blue signified loyalty and wisdom. Gold was associated with wealth and generosity, while green was a symbol of fertility and rebirth.

Symbols were often chosen based on their association with specific virtues or values. For example, a sword represented a family’s readiness for battle, while a book symbolized learning and education.

Medieval family insignias were a way for knights and nobles to express their identities, allegiances, and values. While their use declined after the medieval period, they continue to be an important part of heraldry and family history today.

Did you know? The tradition of using family coats of arms continues to this day in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, where individuals can still apply for their own coat of arms through the College of Arms.

Learn more about the colors and symbols used in family insignias.

Feudal System and Heraldry

During the Medieval Period, the feudal system was prevalent throughout Europe. It was a hierarchical system that placed kings and lords at the top, followed by knights and peasants at the bottom. With the feudal system came the rise of heraldry, which was a system of identification in battle.

Heraldry was a way for knights to distinguish themselves on the battlefield and show their allegiance to their lords. It also helped to prevent friendly fire incidents during battles. Heraldic devices were incorporated onto shields, banners, and even armor.

Coats of arms were used as a heraldic device and became a status symbol for noble families. The design of a coat of arms was unique to each family and would incorporate symbols and colors that held specific meanings. One of the earliest recorded uses of coats of arms was in the mid-12th century.

The use of coats of arms was regulated by heraldic authorities, such as the College of Arms in England, who acted as judges in disputes regarding coats of arms.

Heraldry was also used to record genealogical information. It was common to display a family’s coat of arms in family-owned castles, tombs or other prominent locations. This helped people to identify a family’s heritage and history. It was also common for families to commission a painting or tapestry of their coat of arms.

The feudal system and the development of heraldry had a significant impact on family insignias. It laid the foundation for the use of family crests and coats of arms as a form of identification and a symbol of identity. To this day, family crests and coats of arms remain an important part of many families’ heritages.

If you want to read more about the importance of family insignias, check our article on Family Insignia Importance. In case if you are curious about materials used for family insignias, read our article about Family Insignia Materials. And, if you want to create your own family insignia, don’t forget to read our Family Insignia Design Do’s and Don’ts article.

Coats of Arms and Charges

Coats of Arms are essentially a symbolic representation of a family’s identity. In order to make them more unique and easily identifiable, the concept of “Charges” was introduced. These are symbols or pictures that are placed on top of the actual Coat of Arms.

Charges can vary greatly and can include animals, birds, mythical creatures, objects, and even people. It was common for charges to have a symbolic meaning that represented various aspects of the family’s history, beliefs, or values.

Some examples of charges include:

  • Lions: Known as the “king of beasts,” lions were a popular charge and symbolized bravery, courage, and strength.
  • Eagles: A common charge in heraldry, eagles represent power, courage, and high-flying vision.
  • Unicorns: Regarded as a mystical creature, unicorns represented virtues such as purity, chastity, and grace.
  • Keys: Keys were a popular charge for families with a history in locksmithing, or symbolized Paul in his role as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
  • Shields: Often used as a charge, shields were a symbol of defense or a family’s military history.

The combination of different charges on a Coat of Arms could greatly vary, and each resulting Coat of Arms would be unique to the family it represented. The use of heraldic charges became more popular during the Medieval Times when it was essential to identify soldiers during battles, jousts, and tournaments.

The use of charges made Coats of Arms more distinct and easily recognizable. They added visual interest to the already existing Coat of Arms, and helped to tell the story of a family’s history, values and beliefs in a symbolic way.

Colors and Symbols in Medieval Family Insignias

Colors and symbols were an important aspect of medieval family insignias, as they conveyed meaning and communicated a family’s values and history. Here are some common colors and symbols used in medieval family insignias:


  • Red: represented courage, warrior, and military strength
  • Blue: represented loyalty, piety, and truth
  • Green: represented hope, joy, and loyalty in love
  • Purple: represented royalty, sovereignty, and justice
  • Gold: represented generosity, clarity of mind, and nobility
  • Silver: represented peace, sincerity, and purity of faith


  • Lions: represented courage, bravery, and strength
  • Eagles: represented strength, courage, and farsightedness
  • Bears: represented strength, protectiveness, and ferocity
  • Deer: represented peace, gentleness, and harmony with nature
  • Dragons: represented power, mystery, and supernatural forces
  • Flowers: represented beauty, love, and loyalty

These colors and symbols were often combined in creative ways to form a unique family insignia that conveyed a family’s identity and values. For example, a red lion on a gold background might represent a family that valued courage and nobility. Similarly, a blue eagle on a silver background might represent a family that valued loyalty and purity.

In addition to colors and symbols, other design elements such as mantling, helm, and crest were also commonly used in medieval family insignias. These elements were often specific to the family’s rank and status in society.

Colors and symbols played an important role in medieval family insignias, providing a visual representation of a family’s identity, values, and history.

Renaissance and Modern Family Insignias

During the Renaissance and modern eras, family insignias underwent a significant transformation. Instead of being used strictly for identification purposes as in ancient times, family crests were now used as a form of artistic expression and status symbol. Families added more complexity and symbolism to their crests, often incorporating elements that reflected their professions or personal values.

In the Renaissance period, family crests primarily consisted of heraldic shields adorned with various symbols. These symbols included animals, plants, and objects that held familial or political significance. The intricacy of the symbols increased over time, eventually leading to the creation of family mottoes that were displayed alongside the crest.

During the modern era, family crests became less exclusive to certain social classes and were adopted by a wider range of families. This led to more creative and diverse designs, incorporating elements from different cultures and personal interests. Some families even created completely new symbols and designs that did not adhere to traditional heraldic guidelines.

Despite the changes, family insignias still hold a significant cultural and personal value. Many families still display their crests in their homes or include them on personal stationery and keepsakes. Some families even pass down the rights to use the crest to future generations as a way to preserve their heritage.

It is important to note that while family insignias may have lost their original purpose of identification, they still serve as a visual representation of a family’s values, history, and accomplishments. The evolution of family insignias throughout history is a testament to the ongoing importance of familial heritage and tradition.

Reinvention of Family Insignias

The reinvention of family insignias during the Renaissance period saw a shift towards more personalized and artistic designs. The concept of the coat of arms was expanded to include supporters, crests, and mottoes that reflected the values and achievements of the family. One significant change was the use of animals, plants, and mythical creatures in the designs, which added a new level of symbolism.

The Medici Family:
The Medici family of Florence is renowned for their patronage of the arts and their contributions to the Renaissance movement. Their family insignia features six red balls on a gold shield, which some say represent pills or coins, while others suggest they represent the six medieval towers of Florence. The coat of arms also includes a red banner with the Latin motto “Semper” meaning “Always” or “Forever.”

The House of Tudor:
The Tudor dynasty of England is famous for its monarchs, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The Tudors’ family crest is a white and red rose on a gold background, symbolizing the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York, which ended the War of the Roses. The crest also includes a crowned lion and a dragon, which represent the House of Tudor’s Welsh origins. The family motto is “God and my Right,” which asserts the divine right of kings to rule.

The House of Bourbon:
The Bourbon family of France played a significant role in European history, with countless members serving as kings and queens. Their family insignia features a shield with three golden fleurs-de-lis on a blue background, which symbolize the Trinity and the Virgin Mary. The coat of arms also includes a crown and a green wreath of laurel, which represent victory and honor.

The reinvention of family insignias during the Renaissance period marked a significant departure from the medieval tradition of simple designs and bold colors. Instead, families began to incorporate intricate designs, symbols, and mottoes that spoke to their unique identity and history. Today, family crests and coats of arms remain an important part of many families’ heritage and are often displayed on flags, jewelry, and even tattoos.

Meanings and Symbolism in Modern Family Insignias

Modern family insignias often incorporate symbols and colors that have a deeper meaning for the family they represent. These symbols can be related to the family’s history, beliefs, or values.

One symbol commonly used in modern family insignias is the lion. The lion is often associated with strength, courage, and royalty. It can also be seen as a symbol of protection, as lions are known for defending their territory and their pride. For example, the McLeod family of Scotland includes a fierce lion in their coat of arms, representing their strength and courage in battle.

Another common symbol is the eagle, which represents freedom, strength, and power. The eagle is often associated with the United States and is used in many American family crests. The eagle can also represent godliness or spirituality in some cultures.

Colors also play a significant role in modern family insignias. Gold or yellow often symbolizes generosity and power, while red represents courage and strength. Blue is associated with loyalty and trustworthiness, and green represents fertility and growth. For example, the O’Connor family of Ireland includes a coat of arms with a green background, signifying their connection to the land and their role as farmers.

In addition to these traditional symbols and colors, modern family insignias may also include more personal or unique elements. For example, a family might include an animal or object that has personal significance to them, or incorporate a meaningful quote or phrase into their design.

Modern family insignias continue to be an important way for families to represent their history, values, and identity. By incorporating meaningful symbols and colors, families can create a design that is both beautiful and meaningful to them.

Symbol Meaning
Lion Strength, courage, royalty, protection
Eagle Freedom, strength, power, godliness
Gold/Yellow Generosity, power
Red Courage, strength
Blue Loyalty, trustworthiness
Green Fertility, growth

Global Impact of Family Insignias

Family insignias are not just significant in one particular part of the world, but their impact is global. Throughout history, various cultures have used symbols and emblems to showcase their family identity. Let’s discover how family insignias have had an impact across the world.

Europe: Family insignias have always played an important role in European cultures. It all started during the Middle Ages where family crests and coats of arms were a symbol of a family’s heritage and social status. These emblems were carefully crafted and displayed on sculptures, paintings, and flags. Fast forward to modern times, family crests are still significant in many European countries such as the United Kingdom, where the royal family has a well-known coat of arms.

Asia: In Asian cultures, family crests are known as “kamon” in Japan and “baiwen” in China. Japanese family crests date back to the 12th century and were used mainly for identifying family lineages and social status. There are approximately 20,000 Japanese family crests to date. In China, family crests were used as a way of identifying noble families during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-221 BC).

Africa: In Africa, tribal marks were used as a form of identifying family lineages. These marks varied from tribe to tribe and were often used in facial tattoos or scarring. However, due to the discomfort and sometimes harmful effects of these practices, they have since been banned in many African countries.

North America: In Native American culture, family insignias were represented through totem poles, which were carved from cedar trees. These poles were used to tell stories and showcase the different families within a tribe. Each totem pole was unique and represented a particular family’s history and social standing within the tribe.

South America: In South American cultures, particularly in Peru, family crests were represented through textiles. These textiles were often intricately woven and showcased the family’s history and cultural beliefs.

It’s clear that family insignias have had a significant impact across the world. While they may have had different uses and meanings, the idea of representing one’s family identity through symbols and emblems has transcended time and culture.


After examining the history and evolution of family insignias, it is clear that these symbols have played a significant role throughout human civilization. From ancient hieroglyphics to modern family crests, these insignias have served as a visual representation of a family’s identity, values, and aspirations. The intricate designs and unique symbols used in family insignias have fascinated people for centuries and continue to be an important aspect of heraldry and genealogy.

While family insignias were initially used as a means of identifying one’s lineage, they have evolved into something much more. Today, family insignias can serve as a badge of honor, a representation of one’s accomplishments, or a reminder of one’s family history. Whether it’s the coat of arms on a medieval knight’s shield or the modern family crest displayed on a letterhead, family insignias remain a powerful and enduring symbol of a family’s heritage and legacy.

Moreover, it’s important to note that family insignias are more than just symbols of pride and tradition. They are also a means of connectivity and belonging. Family insignias help to remind us of our familial ties and history, and can be passed down from generation to generation, strengthening the bond between family members. In this way, family insignias serve as a vital link between our past, present, and future.

In conclusion, the history and evolution of family insignias is a testament to the enduring power of symbolism and heritage. From ancient times to the modern era, family insignias have played an important role in human civilization. They serve as a visual representation of a family’s identity and values, reminding us of our ancestors and familial ties. Today, family insignias continue to be a proud tradition and symbol of respect, connecting us to our past and to each other.

Significance of Family Insignias Today

The significance of family insignias today may not be as prominent as it was in the past, but it still holds a special place in many families around the world. Today, family insignias are often used for decorative purposes, such as on wedding invitations or as wall art in homes.

However, family insignias can also serve as a way to connect with one’s ancestors and promote a sense of family pride and unity. By understanding and embracing the history and symbolism behind their family’s insignia, individuals can feel a greater sense of identity and belonging.

Additionally, family insignias can still hold legal significance in some countries. For example, in Scotland, heraldic authorities are responsible for registering and granting coats of arms to individuals and families. These coats of arms can then be passed down through generations and used for various legal purposes.

Family insignias have also become a popular marketing tool for businesses. Many companies use family names and insignias as a way to promote their products or services, emphasizing a sense of tradition and heritage.

While the significance of family insignias may have evolved over time, their importance in connecting individuals to their family history and promoting a sense of pride and identity remains strong.

Benefits of Family Insignias Today
Emphasize family pride and unity
Create a sense of identity and belonging
Hold legal significance in some countries
Popular marketing tool for businesses

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a family coat of arms and a family emblem?

A family coat of arms typically includes a shield, helmet, crest, and motto, while a family emblem may use pictorial representations or other symbols to convey family identity.

What is the origin of family insignias?

Family insignias have been used for centuries to identify members of noble families and the ruling class in various cultures, including ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, and Japan.

What was the purpose of family insignias in ancient times?

Ancient family insignias served as a way to distinguish noble families and their lineage, but they were also used as a symbol of power and status.

Why did medieval families use coats of arms?

Medieval families used coats of arms to identify themselves on the battlefield, but they also used them as a way to demonstrate their nobility and family lineage.

What is a “charge” in heraldry?

A charge is a symbol or image that is depicted on a coat of arms. Common charges include animals, plants, and objects that hold personal significance for the family.

When did family insignias become popular in Europe?

Family insignias became popular in Europe during the medieval period, between the 11th and 13th centuries.

What role did color play in medieval family insignias?

Color played an important role in medieval family insignias, as certain colors were associated with specific virtues, such as red for bravery and white for purity.

Are family insignias still used today?

Yes, many families still use family insignias today as a way to maintain family traditions and demonstrate their lineage and heritage.

Can a family create their own coat of arms or emblem?

Yes, families can create their own coat of arms or emblem, although they should follow the conventions and rules of heraldry to ensure that the design is appropriate and historically accurate.

What is the significance of family insignias in modern times?

In modern times, family insignias serve as a way of preserving family history and identifying members of the same family, even if they are located in different parts of the world. They can also be used to celebrate family traditions and cultural heritage.


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