Original art and prints created from my artwork.

Original art and prints created from my artwork.

Is there a difference in a family crest and a coat of arms?

The meanings of words change over time. The meanings of the terms “family crest” and “coat of arms” were quite different in the past but now seem to be used interchangeably. Most heraldry enthusiasts prefer to call these artworks coats of arms.


Historically, the “crest” indicated the top portion of an armorial achievement, or the part of the drawing typically above the helmet. Crests were often personalized for the individual who was awarded the arms. Common crests included lions, birds, trees, and more, and made up part of the whole armorial achievement.

In the past, a “coat of arms” referred to a garment that a person could wear. It included emblems to identify that person. Since a knight was covered in armor during an event or in battle, a coat of arms functioned like a modern-day sports jersey; it provided information that would help other people identify them.

Some governments and offices still award and register arms to individuals and companies.  You can register an official coat of arms in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and even Canada. Most people in the US don’t have a registered coat of arms. Most companies that sell information and images of coats of arms are selling pieces reproduced from historical records of people with the same last name.  For more common surnames, there might even be several achievements registered for many people who share that name.