Types of Family Symbols: Expressing Unity Through the Years

Updated January 16, 2020
Orlov coat of arms, Russia

Intent upon expressing pride in loved ones and the family name, people have always tried to find ways to display these feelings. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination, but few symbols for family hold universal understanding.

Traditional Coat of Arms

According to AncestralFindings.com, most people embarking on a genealogical dig, dream to find their family crest or coat of arms, but few succeed. The coat of arms first appeared as a design on a knight's shield in an effort to provide his identity. Each compilation of symbols was unique to an individual and represented the achievements of that person.

In Medieval Europe, each country designated different rights regarding the use of such a coat of arms. Some countries allowed a knight the right to pass the design on to their descendants while others were only allowed use of the coat of arms for the duration of the knight's life.

Coat of Arms Symbols and Their Meanings

Anyone can search the Internet and find companies claiming to know your official family coat of arms, however, most of these places are just a gimmick. A detailed list of heraldry symbols is available at Family Trees and Crests. A traditional coat of arms is made up of four parts:

  1. The Motto - Located at the top of the design, an individual can create any motto they want using words they feel best represent their accomplishments or their family.
  2. The Crest - This part of the coat of arms is some type of three-dimensional symbol representing the chief achievement of the owner.
  3. The Shield Elements - Color, type of shield division (a strip or cross for example), and type of dividing lines all represent specific traits that when combined, tell a story.
  4. The Supporters - On either side of the shield there are typically two animals or people seemingly holding the crest up.
Bolurfrushan Family Crest
Bolurfrushan Coat of Arms
Clignett family crest
Clignett Coat of Arms
Nolasco Family Crest
Nolasco Coat of Arms

Universal Symbols for Family

Nearly every language and culture since modern man came into being has some words representing each family member as well as the family as a whole. The word 'family' stems from the Latin word for servant - famulus. Familia was used to describe one's household, which included blood relatives as well as servants. The word family was first used in the 1600's to describe a family as we see it today.

At the present time, there are two symbols that are widely recognized as meaning family: the family tree and the family pictograph.

Family Tree

Trees have long been used as a symbol of life as well as lineage. Metaphysically, the tree speaks to each individual as a child of the universe, growing in a unique manner. Trees metaphorically represent a family for two reasons.

Family tree genealogy pictogram
  • The structure: Shared roots link to the past, the trunk shows connected struggles and aspirations, and branches symbolize desires to reach the future
  • Genealogy: The structure of a drawing showing family members and their relationships to one another resembles the structure of a tree.

Family Pictograph

Have you been to any large, public place in recent years? If the answer is 'yes', then you have probably seen a small pictograph of a man and woman holding each hand of a child next to a restroom. This simple pictograph is used to designate places, such as bathrooms, suitable for families.

Modern Expressions of Family Unity

The meaning of family has changed over the years, expanding beyond blood relatives. The way people choose to symbolize family has changed along with this definition. Any family can work together to create a symbol that represents their family's attributes and achievements. Gather your loved ones around and try one of these fun ideas for expressing family unity and pride.

Family unity symbol
  • Create a logo or symbol - Use words, phrases, or symbols from the cultures that make up your heritage to create a family logo.
  • Write a family motto or mission statement - Find a website that creates custom wall art to make a professional-looking display of what you've written.
  • Monograms -Use the first letter of your last name or any combination of initials as the design on a flag to fly proudly at your home or a sign to hang on the front door.
  • Start a new tradition - Create a unique holiday to pass down to generations of your family.

Family Symbols for Tattoos or Artwork

Based on your family's heritage or favorite ways to connect, you can think about incorporating universal or cultural symbols for family into your tattoo or artwork. Some popular symbols that represent family include:

  • Celtic triple spiral knot represents several notions including family, as well as life, death, and rebirth.
  • Simple mountaintops with the parent or parents shown as large, while the child or children are represented with smaller peaks.
  • Chinese symbols for family come in a few options and roughly translate to mean family, household, and clan.
  • If you family has roots in Japan, you may discover that your family has a unique crest or Kamon specific to your lineage as every family, not just the Royals had their own.
  • Hydrangeas make for a beautiful representation of family and the emotional connection between all members.
  • Hearts can be used as a universal family symbol as this representation can be seen throughout the world.
  • West African Adinkra symbols for loyalty, love, support, and unity can be used to represent the connectedness of a family unit.

Objects That Represent Family

Objects that represent family can make for special keepsakes or heirlooms to pass on. They can represent your family's values, traditions, and carry sweet meanings that bring your family joy. Some ideas for objects include:

  • A ceramic or porcelain family figurine
  • A heart ceramic piece
  • A baby spoon that's been used to feed multiple generations in your family
  • A special piece of fabric like a baby blanket, kerchief, or linen that's been used throughout your family's history
  • A knot object made from brass, steel, or other various mediums
  • The infinity symbol which can come in many mediums from hanging art to matching family jewelry and even furniture pieces
  • An ornament with your family crest or name on it
  • Your family photo album or framed image that cherishes your family's special memories

Show Your Family Pride

Family symbols are meant to be a quick and easy way to show what your family has accomplished, stands for, and plans to achieve in the future. Any family can express their collective self in a unique way, even if you don't find some hundred year old symbol.

Types of Family Symbols: Expressing Unity Through the Years