Crest-Fest at Tiffany

By Cornelia Read

I dragged my daughter Grace all over Manhattan the other day, doing kind of groovy errands. We toured Barnard in the morning, which she loved so much she was on the verge of joyful tears throughout the entire information session, and I think was just about ready to chain herself to the gates in order to get accepted to the freshman class of year after next. Then we got to go to Belgian Shoes and exchange a gift pair from my Aunt Jean that were slightly too big for a really groovy mock-alligator black patent leather.

like this except NOT GREEN

The very nice salesman assured me that you can now wear patent leather BETWEEN Memorial Day and Labor Day, but I disagree totally. I mean, if John Waters thinks Kathleen Turner can fictionally want to kill off Patty Hearst for wearing white shoes after Labor Day, I’m pretty sure I’m still on safe ground here, right?

But the coolest thing we did was go to Tiffany to ask whether they still had a Read family crest on file. My cousin Eric had told me there were two in the files, an older one that has like a bear paw or something, IIRC, with a motto along the lines of “Angry When Roused” only in Latin. The newer one is what my Grandfather designed for himself, which is the crest Eric had made into a ring for himself.

My mother had said that she wanted to have my dad’s version of this ring copied for me and my sister, if we wanted them. I told her that sounded terrific, especially if she felt like doing it for my fiftieth birthday (still thankfully… ahem… three years away.) Mom thought my stepmother might have Dad’s ring, but I’d found out she didn’t, and promised to go check with Tiffany, etc.

After some confusion on the part of the very courteous staff as to where one might actually GO in the store to find this information out (we were sent to the second floor, which is engagement rings and diamonds and pearls, then back to the ground floor [REALLY big sparkly stuff],

and then finally to customer service on the sixth floor, which proved to be correct ding-ding-ding.)

The tremendously kind Mr. Mark Harty helped me out with all this, promised to contact the branch of the company that keeps these things on file, and then emailed me that same afternoon to ask whether I’d forgotten a shopping bag at his desk.

I wrote back that if the shopping bag were from Belgian Shoes, then it contained merely a pair of totally jankity ballet flats from Target, and that I’d be honored if he’d throw them away.

He emailed back later that same day and attached a jpeg of Grandaddy’s crest (and also said he’d successfully disposed of my “beloved” ballet flats, which was most excellent of him):



I don’t know a lot about heraldry, so just looked up a list of what the symbols mean this morning. Here are a few I thought were cool:

an ANT: great labour, wisdom, and providence in one’s affairs

an ASS: patience and humility

an AXE: execution of military duty 

a BAT: Awareness of the powers of darkness and chaos

BAY LEAVES: poet or victor’s laurels

a BEAR: strength, cunning, ferocity in the protection of one’s kindred

a BEAVER: industry and perseverance

a BEE: efficient industry

BELLS: Power to disperse evil spirits; a hawk’s bells denotes one who was not afraid of signalling his approach in peace or war

a CENTAUR: eminence in the field of battle

a COCK: courage and perseverance; hero; able man in politics

a CRANE (stork): close parental bond; vigilance if holding a rock

a DOG: courage, vigilance, and loyalty

a DOLPHIN: swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love

a DUCK: person of many resources

an EAGLE: Person of noble nature, strength, bravery, and alertness… if wings “displayed,” it signifies protection.

an ELEPHANT: great strength, wit, longevity, happiness, royalty, good luck, and ambition.

an ESCALLOP (scallop shell): traveller to far places…

It’s a long list, but kind of fun to check out. Here’s a link to the full thing.

If I were to design my own, it would definitely have an inkhorn or inkwell (art of writing) with a panther (fierce, but tender and loving to children and will defend her children with her life.)

Grandaddy picked a stump with a branch sprouting from it, which apparently means “new life sprouting from the old.” Not sure what the bird is. An eagle? A cock?

Cocks in heraldry can sometimes look like this, rather than totally roostery (this is apparently a “moorcock”):

As for his new motto, I’d definitely keep that.

Here’s another crest I found online this morning, which I think is really cool:

I presume it was designed for an African-American family, given the visual references to slavery and Africa. I like the sound of these people very much.

Okay ‘Ratis, your turn. If you’ve got a family crest, let us know what it is and whether or not you’re comfortable with it. What would be in your crest if you designed it yourself? What would you want as your motto?

24 thoughts on “Crest-Fest at Tiffany

  1. JT Ellison

    COOL! I'm a McBean by marriage (of the South Carolina John McBean line) and here's the coat of arms : Their motto, Touch Not the Cat but a Targe, basically a war cry, always makes me smile. I'm a Wallace on my mother's side, with yet another cat, and more amour, and a clan motto of Pro Libertate

    So cool that Tiffany is vigilant too…

  2. JT Ellison

    Our branch of the McBeans fled to Ulster after Culloden because of the famine and British retribution – and married there before emigrating to the US. It's a tribute for sure.

  3. Debbie

    I once tried to design a crest for a fictional character, coming up with a latin motto but few symbols. I'm inspired once again, thanks!

  4. Dudley Forster

    J.T. ah I'm British , so sorry about that thing in Culloden. But hey I trace my roots back to Georgia, so at least I have some Southern blood in me ;-.

    Cornelia – Those have to some of be the ugliest shoes I have ever seen. But you could get away with wearing them on St Paddy's Day. Never been to Tiffany, but I did see "Breakfast at Tiffany's" 🙂

    The Forsters: We came from the very north of England and are acknowledged members of the Clan MacDonald. Most believe the crest was created at a time when the Forsters were huntsman, keeper of the forest for landed nobility. I have claimed my heritage in the Clan MacDonald, and wear the tartan (not as a kilt, through that would be very cool) but as a tie. The Forster Family Crest has a number of variations, but always with the shield and three hunting bugles on them. One can be found here:

    The motto of the Forster Family is “Ante omnia sylv” meaning “The woods (or forests) before all things”

    The Dudleys: My first name is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. I have a couple of aunts that were into genealogy. So I know that the Dudleys arrived in the 1600s in Georgia and one direct descendant was a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment in the Revolutionary war. I told my daughters that we had enough genealogical proof for them to become members of the DAR. They said, “Who cares.” There have been many attempts to link the Dudleys to Sir Robert Dudley, but he had no offspring. The argument about this has raged for years.

    The Dudley Family Crest can be found here:

    The Dudley Family Motto – Because of the great debate there are two, one from Robert Dudley which has been adopted by the Dudley Family is “Droit et loyal” meaning “Just and loyal” and the other is: “Galea spes salutis” meaning “Hope is the helmet of salvation”

  5. Cornelia Read

    Debbie, let us know how that goes, okay? Fun idea for a character…

    Dudley, I love "ante omnia sylv." And thanks for sharing your links–way cool.

    Louise, I've been feeling this year as though it might be like the supposed "Chinese curse" of "may you live in interesting times." A dull moment would be welcome, every once in a while.

  6. Yvette

    Tiffany's is the most wonderful store in the world. When I was first married, nothing would do but that my wedding band MUST come from Tiffany's. And it did. Unfortunately it did not bring eternal cachet and good fortune, I was divorced after 24 years. But what the hell, it was mostly good while it lasted. I love your family crests, Cornelia. What a nice thing to have. I don't mind those green shoes at all, by the way. ; )

  7. Tom

    Another "Holy crap!" response to Grandpa's Motto, Cornelia; seems to be a Read/Reed verity.
    "Aut Agere Aut More," IIRC, is the motto of Clan Barclay of Towie. "To Act Or To Die." One can make good use of heraldic foreshadowing.
    JT, been meaning to speak to you about that Culloden unpleasantness. "Stab the opponent to your left," indeed! Base treachery!
    Alligator shoes, special note: a three-foot alligator attacked two women in MICHIGAN this week. They were picking corn when attacked, but were able to outrun it through the cornfield. The property owner dispatched the young dragon.
    Michigan? Yep, 'gators are moving north. If they're spreading across the country, the cost of fab footwear should be falling.

  8. Cornelia Read

    Yvette, your marriage outlasted mine by a couple of years–I only made it to 22. And I got the same style of shoes as those green ones, but they're black instead (there was no picture of straight black ones online). But I'm glad you like them…

    Tom, you crack me up. I will begin to worry when MOCK alligators start attacking corn-picking women. And I think "Aut Agere Aut More" sounds a bit like the New Hampshire "Live Free or Die" thing. I believe that Grandaddy Read picked that motto after having had nine children, but it seems to be playing out a little differently in my personal narrative. It would be nice of "not dull" could actually start manifesting as "fun" or at the very least "not a perpetual suckfest." I'd like that.

  9. billie

    My son is doing a sort of ongoing independent study of all things Greek and Roman, so I've been summoned to his computer screen many times the past few months to see all sorts of ancient coins, which have lots of interesting symbols on them.

    I think being a sandplay therapist has permanently warped me b/c while I don't have a crest at the moment, I do have a collection of miniatures on the side of my desk (and another in the dining room and another on a shelf by our front door, and several more upstairs in my garret.) It's sort of the same thing, in a way.

    My desk set at the moment is a horse, a hand-carved bird, a piece of rock from Bisti in NM, two stones a friend brought me from Stratford-on-Avon, and a crystal. If you count the photos of water and crows above my desk, I've just about covered the gamut of personal symbols!

    Most of all though, I'm completely enchanted that your family has a crest registered with Tiffany's. Never A Dull Moment is perfect for you. (though if you want some dull moments, I'll wish some for you!)

  10. Cornelia Read

    billie, thanks for the dullness wishes. Just a little respite would be nice, from all the calamity. I love that you have pictures of crows and water above your desk…

  11. toni mcgee causey

    McGee is blood related to Clan MacKay (MacGee) (one of my great grandfathers dropped the "a" in Mac). Our crest shows a fist thrust upwards with a dagger, and the motto is "Manu Forti" which means "with a strong hand."

    One of my aunts traced back our lineage, since we are mostly Cajun on that side of the family… except, no one really looks Cajun. My dad's family are all big brawny men, very tall, which isn't like the short wiry Cajun men, and we discovered that one of the MacGees traveled to Nova Scotia, where he married an Acadian woman and settled there.

    My husband's family, the Causeys, are more from England and Galway, Ireland area, so no crest. Lots of attitude, though. 😉

  12. Rae

    Well, there may be a family crest, but it's unfindable via Google at the moment. The last name Helmsworth, which is of German descent (von Helmschwartz, which makes me think the crest would have some sort of black helmet on it somewhere), has become all mixed up with the last name Hemsworth, (as in Miley Cyrus's boyfriend Liam) which is of English descent. Which means I have absolutely no trust in anything I found about either name. On my mother's side, I found several crests that claim to be for the Madsen family (Danish) – my favorite had a bunny on it.

    My personal crest would most likely be some form of the Saks logo, with a gakking cat sitting on top of it.


  13. Dudley Forster

    Toni – Cool looking crest! As for having a fist thrust upwards with a dagger, and the family motto be "with a strong hand" why am I not surprised. 😉

    Cornelia – On this fashion business. I think this is beyond my cultural ability to understand. Out here in N. Idaho lawyers can go to court in nice pressed jeans and cowboy boots as long as they wear a sports coat of some kind and a tie, even a western tie. I don't think the great majority of folks would care if a woman wore white shoes in October, unless there was a serial mom in the neighborhood. Don't forget the second part of that "curse" "May you find what you are looking for."
    And thanks to your wonderful list of symbols, for a new crest – It would have an elephant and books, the motto, "Normality is a Fiction". BTW don't you know that fifty is the new forty? Well that's what I tell myself.

  14. Cornelia Read

    Dudley, I think the thing with Belgian shoes is that they are supremely anti-fashion. They've looked exactly the same for about fifty years now. I inherited about twelve pair from Grandmama Read (only one in the family with feet big enough to wear them.)

    One of the strangest photos I've ever seen is one of John Wayne, off set. He was wearing Belgians. It takes a pretty confident guy to put those on his feet, I think.

  15. Cornelia Read

    And Dudley, I forgot to comment on your elephants and books crest, which sounds pretty damn spiffy. I'm liking the phrase "the only people who are normal are those we don't know well."

    And I'm not sure whether or not I want to find what I'm looking for, unless it's my car keys…

  16. Gayle Carline

    I've always thought it'd be neat to have a family history I could point out to people, perhaps with a cool crest. We're such a mutty bunch – Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, German, Swedish, Native American. The family's main claim to fame is procrastination. Our crest would probably involve a slug and a dog of indeterminate origin, and our motto would be the Latin equivalent of, "Yeah, We'll Get Around to That."

  17. Debbie

    I gave a quick look around for the latin motto but alas, it's gone. So here's what I have: A black cauldron with a golden eye, olive green vapours rising to touch a black bat at the top with a small olive green bell hanging from the left wing tip. A black eagle, talens gripping the cauldren and wings outstretched to touch the bell. Finally, an olive green serpant, coiled, body rising and overlapping the eagle. All on a golden yellow (like the sugar) background. Perhaps atop the crest, a blood red crown with the name Prince in gold lettering like the lettering for the African-American crest above. The motto was something to the effect: sacrifice, dedication, valor.

  18. mary lynn reed

    To the phrase, "the only people who are normal are those we don't know well."
    I think we should add, "because they are too boring."

  19. Fran

    I love family crests! But I have no idea what name I'd look under. Fuller? Collier? Watson? Tenzler? Kautz? Taylor? No earthly idea.

    But Lillian and I have toyed with the idea of creating a new family crest for us. If we do, we'll let you know what it is.

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