Heraldry, Shields and Christian Names
How early European Coats of Arms were granted
Since the early 13th Century, Coats of Arms and Heraldry have been a source of great fascination as well as a subject of true historical importance. It is easy to understand why more than half a million Coats of Arms recorded by individuals with their respective family names are still being researched and studied after more than seven centuries.
How the term "Coat of Arms" evolved makes an interesting story. Because wars were almost a continual occurrence during the Middle Ages, more and more armour was added to a knight's battle uniform until the medieval warrior was finally protected from head to toe. The metal suit of armour always included a helmet to protect the head, thus it was virtually impossible to tell one knight from another.
In order to prevent any mishaps on the battlefield such as one friend injuring another, a means of identification was necessary. A colourful solution first came as knights painted patterns on their battle shields. These patterns were eventually woven into cloth surcoats which were worn over the suit of armour. In fact, many a horse was also seen prancing around in a fancy cloth surcoat with its masters Coat of Arms on the side.
This colourful identification was certainly displayed with great pride. As more designs were created, it became necessary to register or copyright these designs to prevent two knights from using the same insignia. Records were kept that gave each knight exclusive rights to his arms. In many cases, records were then compiled listing the family name and an exact description of its Coat of Arms. These are called "Armorials" or "Blazons".
The word "heraldry" is associated with Coats of Arms due to the role of the herald in recording the blazons, and comes from a common practice at a medieval sporting event. Tournaments (or jousting contests) were popular during the days of knighthood and as each soldier was presented at a tournament, a herald sounded the trumpet and then announced the knight's achievements and described his Arms. The heralds would then record the Arms as a way of ensuring that a family maintained its protective rights to have and use its individual Arms.
History Shield Designs
Coats of Arms are intertwined with herald and history. Historically, different creatures of nature denoted certain characteristics, and various inanimate shapes implied certain traits, historical factors or aspirations.
For example, the chevron symbolized protection and has often been placed on Arms to tell others that its bearer achieved some notable feat. A symbol (or charge) placed on a Coat of Arms usually provided clues to a person's being. Some Arms are an artistic interpretation of a person's name, e.g. many of the Fisher Arms include dolphins or other fish. Many Arms reveal a person's occupation. Others tell about less tangible characteristics, such as the early bearer's hopes, wishes and aspirations.
For example, hope is shown by a wheat garb or sheaf, and joy by garlands of flowers or a red rose. Crosses and religious symbols often meant the person felt a closeness to his god, or could have symbolized that the knight was a veteran of one of history's bloodiest series of battles - The Crusades.
Origins of Christian names around the world
We generally think of names with three parts: first, middle and last. First names are called "Christian" or "Given" names, because early Christians changed their pagan first names to Christian names at baptism.
Most first names used in the Western World today originate from five languages: Hebrew, Teutonic (which included Germanic), Greek, Latin and Celtic (which includes Irish, Welsh and Scottish).
|Alexander||Greek||Helper of humanity|
|Anthony||Latin||Praiseworthy or priceless|
|Benjamin||Hebrew||Son of the right hand|
|Daniel||Hebrew||God is my judge|
|Dennis||Greek||Of Dionysus, god of wine|
|Dorothy||Greek||Gift of God|
|Elizabeth||Hebrew||Oath of God|
|Gerald||Teutonic||Strong with a spear|
|Henry||Teutonic||Ruler of the home|
|James||Hebrew||May God protect|
|Jane, Janet, Jean||Hebrew||Gift of God|
|Joan||Hebrew||Gift of God|
|John||Hebrew||God's gracious gift|
|Joseph||Hebrew||The Lord shall add|
|Judith, Judy||Hebrew||Jewess or praised|
|Julia, Julie||Latin||Downy face|
|Kevin||Celtic||Gentle and beloved|
|Mark||Latin||Of Mars, Roman god of war|
|Matthew||Hebrew||Gift of God|
|Patricia||Latin||Of noble birth|
|Philip||Greek||Lover of horses|
|Samuel||Hebrew||God has heard|
|Steven, Stephen||Greek||Crown or garland|
|Theodore||Greek||Gift of God|
|Victor||Latin||Victory in battle|
|Virginia||Latin||Pertaining to spring|
Middle names weren't used until the 15th Century when a second 'First' name was used as a status symbol by German nobility. Many years passed before this practice became widespread, and in the United States, it did not become popular until after the Revolutionary War, when the fashion was to use the mother's maiden name.