Frequently asked questions
1. (:toggle hide Q1 label='Will the USHR register a surname coat of arms purchased at the mall or online?':)
No. Stores that sell family or surname coats of arms are selling bogus or other people's ancestors' arms. If your name is Johnson, and someone named Johnson had arms 100 years ago, that does not make them yours. In short, there is no "Johnson coat of arms." Instead you need (a) to inherit a coat of arms from a documented, usually patrilineal ancestor who actually bore that coat of arms or (b) to design an original coat of arms that you can rightfully own and your descendants can inherit. The USHR (or other organizations such as the IAAH
) can assist you with a new design.
2. (:toggle hide Q2 label='What is a blazon?':)
A blazon is a standardized description of a coat of arms (or flag). Blazons use specialized terms and grammar with the goal of efficiently capturing the design. Since English heralds wrote in French, English blazons use many French words. Blazons were used as early as the 12th century to record heraldry at tournaments. In a sense, the blazon defines the coat of arms. Unlike logos which have only one graphic representation, coats of arms can have multiple representations or "emblazonments." A coat of arms on a flag will have a different shape than on a letter head, and no two artists will draw a coat of arms in the same way. All emblazonments of a coat of arms, even if they differ from one another, are the same
coat of arms if they are consistent with the blazon. Please see our page on Blazon
for further information.
3. (:toggle hide Q3 label='What is the difference between a crest and a coat of arms?':)
A coat of arms is not the same thing as a crest, even though many people seem to use the terms interchangeably. The crest is the component of the coat of arms that is usually displayed on top of the helm. A coat of arms is, at minimum, the shield, but it can include a helm, mantling, and a crest over the helm. When all these components are shown together, it is called an "achievement."
4. (:toggle hide Q4 label='What is the legal status of heraldry in the USA?':)
Heraldry is unregulated in the USA. Unlike subjects of Great Britain, Americans don't need their government's permission to bear a coat of arms. Americans enjoy the same heraldic freedoms found in Continental and Northern Europe where coats of arms are in common use and can be assumed without the government's permission. For more information about the legal status of arms in the United States, see the American Heraldry Society's "Guidelines for Heraldic Practice in the United States"
and their article "Heraldic Registration in the United States."
5. (:toggle hide Q5 label='What is the difference between a grant of arms and a registration of arms?':)
Registration is not the same as a "grant" of arms, which is available only in a few countries that regulate heraldry, such as Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Canada. Grants offer limited protection against theft of design within the granting country's borders. In almost all other countries heraldry is, for the most part, unregulated. Citizens of all countries may register their arms with a variety of private and public organizations. Registration with a private registrar, such as the USHR, while offering no legal protections, does, however, create a date-of-use for the arms, which can settle disputes if someone later claims the same design.
6. (:toggle hide Q6 label='Can anyone register arms?':)
Yes, the Registry serves applicants without regard to gender, ancestry, religion, nationality, or social status. However, we reserve the right to refuse registration. For example, we do not register the coats of arms of hate groups or terror groups, or members of such groups, such as those listed by the FBI
7. (:toggle hide Q7 label='Do I have to be related to someone who already has a coat of arms?':)
No, anyone can have a coat of arms. There is no rule in any country that one must be related to someone else in order to bear a coat of arms. Even in Scotland, the country in which heraldry is most regulated, a Scottish citizen can receive a grant of arms regardless of their ancestry.
8. (:toggle hide Q8 label='How much does a coat of arms cost?':)
If you design a coat of arms yourself, it is free. If you want a professionally designed coat of arms, then there is the cost of the design and artwork. The USHR offers design consultation.
9. (:toggle hide Q9 label='Why is registration free at the USHR?':)
Most heraldic authorities and registries charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. This practice unintentionally perpetuates the popular myth, springing mainly from the British Isles, that heraldry is only for the rich and elite of society. In contrast, to promote a more egalitarian heraldic practice consistent with American society, the USHR allows anyone to register his or her coat of arms for free. The USHR is not alone: in Continental and Northern European countries where heraldry is unregulated, and in wide use, there are private organizations that register coats of arms for a modest fee. The USHR receives financial support through commissioned artwork, certificates, and design assistance.
10. (:toggle hide Q10 label='How many registration applications are rejected?':)
About 50%. About half of those rejected are surname family arms which belong to unrelated individuals, the other half violate basic rules of heraldic design. Rejection can prompt applicants to rethink their designs or improve them.
11. (:toggle hide Q11 label='What are the basic rules of heraldic design?':)
Heraldic designs need to be clearly identifiable and distinguishable from a distance, i.e. "across a field," so good contrast and simplicity are the ideal. A good list of design rules, which the USHR follows to the greatest extent possible, is the ten rules of thumb
for heraldic design developed by the Heraldic Society of Finland
in 1990. The rules are:
- Only heraldic tinctures are used. These are the metals, gold (Or) and silver (Argent); and the colors, red (Gules), blue (Azure), black (Sable) and green (Vert). In heraldic drawings yellow can be used in place of gold and white in place of silver. Heraldic colors are bright and clean; tones of the colors are picked from center of the scale.
- The use of only two tinctures, of which one is a metal, is preferred. The use of a third tincture requires good reasons, but a fourth is definitely bad heraldry.
- According to the tincture rule, one must not place color on or next to color or metal on or next to metal, unless the line of contact is very short.
- Letters, numbers or texts do not belong on a heraldic emblem.
- Figures (charges) must be as big as possible and fill the space intended for them as completely as possible.
- In figures natural presentation is not important, but characteristic is (e.g. the ferocity of the lion, majesty of the eagle, gracefulness of the deer).
- In principle the charges should be two dimensional. At a minimum they must be recognizable even when presented as colored flat surfaces, without shading or extra borderlines.
- A heraldic emblem must be easy to remember. It should not be crowded with too many symbols, only the essential. The ideal is only one charge.
- It is forbidden to be repetitive in heraldry: one idea should not be symbolized with two or more charges. On the other hand, if one charge suffices to symbolize two or more ideas, it only strengthens the symbolism of the charge, and therefore the whole emblem.
- The charges and the whole emblem must be such that they can be redrawn according to a written description (blazon) of the coat of arms or flag without a model. This means that the charge must be a general presentation of its kind. For example, a castle cannot be a specific castle, but only a stylized heraldic castle (although it can be explained as referring to, say, Korela Fortress). In other words, the description of the charge should not require the use of a proper noun.
12. (:toggle hide Q12 label='Does the Registry follow of customs of British heraldry?':)
Blazons are written in English. However, the Registry favors the customs of acquisition and design found mainly in the German-Nordic heraldic tradition of burgher arms (i.e. arms of common citizens). This tradition, in contrast with post-medieval Gallo-British and Latin heraldry, places greater emphasizes on stylistic simplicity and eschews external ornamentation and symbols of nobility.
13. (:toggle hide Q13 label='What is the difference between ordering artwork and ordering design assistance?':)
When you order artwork, the registry provides a rendering of an existing coat of arms. When you order design assistance, you receive help designing a new coat of arms. The process of designing arms, from start to finish, can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Designing a coat of arms can be an existential project -- one is asked to put into symbols and colors a glimpse of themselves. It is not easy!
14. (:toggle hide Q14 label='Can I register the coat of arms I use in a role-playing organization such as the SCA?':)
No. Your character's arms belong to the imaginary character.
15. (:toggle hide Q15 label='Why do you not register helms, clerical headgear, and supporters?':)
Helms and clerical headgear are not registered because they are not inherited and can be changed in a person's lifetime (and from drawing to drawing). Supporters, as well as compartments and most crowns, are not registered because they symbolize nobility in most countries, which is antithetical to American democracy. If supporters and other symbols of nobility are inherited from ancestors in other countries, then a note can be included describing their historical use and display.
16. (:toggle hide Q16 label='Do tinctures (colors and metals) have fixed meanings?':)
No. Tinctures do not have fixed or historical meanings. For example, "white" does not mean "purity." Some authors have tried to define color meanings, but their definitions are fictional or not followed.
17. (:toggle hide Q17 label='Do I need a Paypal account to order for artwork, a certificate, or design services?':)
No. The Paypal checkout service takes major credit cards without joining or signing into Paypal. If you want to pay by money order in US funds, please
us for the mailing address.
18. (:toggle hide Q18 label='What if I would like to change my arms after they have been registered?':)
The U.S. Heraldic Registry encourages its applicants to seriously consider their coat of arms before committing to a registration. We will gladly correct any errors that were made on our part. However, changing your arms simply out of a desire for a different design is not practical. We attempt to follow the standards set by several other heraldic authorities, and these organizations would refuse to modify granted arms based on changes in taste or design. Registration of arms is the final step in a lengthy process which should be carefully thought out by the expectant armiger.
19. (:toggle hide Q19 label='Why should I register my coat of arms with the USHR?':)
There are many reasons!
- To record and display one's coat of arms in a publicly accessible database.
- To distinguish one's coat of arms from bogus "surname" heraldry.
- To help prevent others from unintentionally assuming one's coat of arms.
- To prove one's coat of arms was acquired or used on a particular date.
- To record one's design in written form called a blazon.
- To preserve one's design for future generations.
- To create an heraldic honor or memorial for a family member.
- To promote an organization's visibility on the internet.