Although you may see a family’s coat of arms hanging over their fireplace now, the practive began in Europe in the 12th century when soldiers and powerful leaders used distinctive crests, also known as coats of arms or heraldic devices, to distinguish themselves or their soldiers on the battlefield. The idea was that in the confusion of the battlefield, these crests would help to distinguish friend from foe.
Eventually the practice spread and many non-soldiers adopted their own symbols. Because it was important that each coat of arms be unique, the process was strictly regulated.
The regulation was also necessary because each coat of arms is highly symbolic. The figures that are depicted, the colors used, the shape of the crest, the animals included, and the motto all give information about what is important to that particular family. Therefore, there had to be a consensus about what each symbol meant. You can find an extensive – and fascinating – list here.
Although possessing a coat of arms is primarily a European custom, Japan has a similar tradition of their own. Known as “kamon,” or “mon,” these symbols are still used by Japanese families as a point of pride.
Unlike European family crests, Japanese crests are created in a round design and are generally one color and can be replicated in any color. No significance is given to the color of the design.
For a fun project, create a family coat of arms of your own. You can use this website or refer to the website above for information about the symbols and create one free-hand.
If your family already has a coat of arms, use the website to determine what each symbol means. Learning about your family’s history will help give your child greater respect for that history and make them eager to learn about others.