Choosing Your Heraldry

The SCA is a complex game based on history. We create personas that might have lived in the Middle Ages, giving them names, backgrounds, and the heraldry they might have displayed. Choosing heraldry for your persona is complex, and deeply personal. Consider your heraldry with the same care and thought as you might choose a tattoo: this is a piece of artwork that will define who you are in the Society. Armory can be changed, but like removing a tattoo, it takes time and money.

The two biggest things to consider when you register your heraldry are:

  1. How easily can someone identify your heraldry?
  2. Is it different enough from everyone else’s heraldry?

Heraldry is the oldest form of Identifying Friend or Foe. Battles are loud, confusing, and messy. If you saw a person running toward you on the battlefield, you would have seconds to see their shield, identify the heraldry, and know if that was your ally or enemy. This is why heraldry should be as simple as possible, while still standing out.

Creating heraldry that stands out relies on color contrast. This means you put light things on dark things, or dark things on light things. To make this easier, heralds recognize two metals, gold and silver, which are drawn as yellow and white. Metals go on colors, and colors go on metals. The colors heralds recognize are Red, Green, Blue, Purple, and Black. Almost all heraldry has a white or gold component, and at least one color.

Think about what colors you want for your heraldry. Many people choose garb based on their heraldic colors, much like the costumes seen in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. What colors suit you? Storm clouds of silver and blue? Bumblebee yellow and black? Green with silver snakes?

Next, consider what animals, shapes, or objects you most identify with. Do you love your blacksmith’s anvil? Wolves? Swords? Owls? Or do you have a funny story about how you pulled a flaming chicken off the stove while cooking a Feast? Come up with an idea for your heraldry, and heralds will adjust it to meet registration requirements.

capshieldOnce you have an idea for your Heraldic Design, All The Rules come into play. One of the big rules is that you can only have three “layers” on heraldic “cake:” the background, and two more layers on top of it. Backgrounds can be a single color, or divided into two or three colors, and backgrounds can be patterns. For example, Captain America’s shield is red, with a silver double border around a blue circle and a silver star. The background is red, the silver border and the blue circle are on the second layer, and the silver star is the third layer. Notice how the blue against the red doesn’t pop out as much? The silver border and the star are easier to see because they have high contrast. I love Cap’s shield, it but wouldn’t be registerable because of the blue and red.

After the design is worked out, your intended heraldry must be Conflict Checked. The College of Heralds has a database of all the Registered Heraldry, Badges, the Arms of every Kingdom, Barony, and Shire, and all of the designs for their Awards. It’s a lot, but there are so many color and design combinations that no matter what you want, you probably will have no conflicts, or only conflict with a few people. This is why you will often hear Scadiens say things like, “Oh, I wanted a silver lion for my heraldry, but I had to make it a winged lion to clear conflict.” Adding wings, an aquatic tail, or a border around your design are common ways to clear conflicts.

Once your Consulting Herald has checked for conflicts, they will find an Art Herald to draw your heraldry. That paperwork is submitted for consideration online, where a lot of Heralds can look at it, comment on it, triple-check that there are no conflicts, and make sure your device isn’t offensive. Giant phalli and swastikas were period, but they are not acceptable to modern eyes.

After you have assembled your heraldry, name, and documentation, you will need to submit the paperwork to your kingdom’s submissions herald. Unless you are at a large event like Pennsic, this will involve mailing the paperwork in addition to the processing fee. Fees vary by Kingdom.

Please be aware that you can register your name alone, but you cannot register your heraldry alone. All registered heraldry must be accompanied by a name. This lets the Heralds post your heraldry for consideration without mentioning your legal name.

Final Thoughts:
Don’t worry if your heraldry is something you can’t draw. An Art Herald will be drawing your design and scanning it for commentary. You can keep a copy of the scan and enlarge it to fill a page, or even split the drawing and print it on multiple pages taped together. Cut it out, trace it onto your shield, and Blam! You can paint your heraldry!

When you go to register your heraldry, it will be referred to as your “device.” Your heraldry will not be referred to as your “arms” until you have been granted an Award of Arms (AoA) by your Kingdom. The Award of Arms is usually the first award a newcomer is given, and it sometimes takes two or three years to receive this. Don’t worry if you haven’t received this award yet. You can still display your heraldry however you would like.

Badges don’t fall under the Award of Arms rule because badges don’t care. Badges are quick and simple to draw. Badges just identify your stuff, and are easy to clear of conflict if they are fieldless. (Fieldless means that the badge has a “clear” background. Any fieldless submission automatically had one step of difference from every other registered device, which makes conflict checking easy.)  Many people believe they don’t need no stinking badges, and just put their heraldry on their stuff.


What’s in a (Heraldic) Name?

The SCA is a very complex game based on history. We create personas that might have lived in the Middle Ages, giving them names and backgrounds. Choosing a name for your persona is complex, and deeply personal.

The key to choosing a name is knowing the rough time period and culture you like most. The things you should consider are often related to what brought you into the SCA. Do you love to shoot arrows? Fight? Fence? Dance? Cook? And archer might have an English persona. A fencer would probably lean towards a late period Italian or French persona. A fighter might prefer a Viking or Roman persona. When in doubt, earlier period is simpler in terms of clothing, armor, and accouterments.

Once you have a culture and time period, ask a Herald for name resources. There are many SCA websites like the Viking Answer Lady with lists of names and their meanings.

People often tell me, “My name is registered; it’s on my blue card.” (The ‘blue card’ is an SCA Membership Card printed on blue card stock.) Please understand that the College of Heralds has absolutely nothing to do with SCA Memberships. Heralds neither ask nor care if you are an SCA Member; we register things to your legal name. This is why registering your SCA name with the Heralds is so important: our database uses your SCA name exclusively, so your legal name is not floating around on the internet. The College of Heralds keeps a separate, tightly controlled database that cross-references SCA names to legal names, in case there is ever a question of who registered what.

When you look for a name, I encourage you not to start at the front of the alphabet. There are more names beginning with “A” than any other letter in the Society, and it causes a lot of confusion. Your name should be your own. Flip through resources. Pick a few letters. Look at “I” and “K” and “T” names. Check out the end of the alphabet.

A short, unusual name is critical if you are a Fencer or a Heavy List Fighter! If your name is yelled in combat, you need to hear it. Choosing a short name with one or two syllables is best. A longer name with a short nickname is also good. Choosing a common name like “Eric” or “Michael” will cause confusion on the field of battle, and can result in you losing battles or tournaments.

When you have a few names you might consider, show them to your friends. Ask how they would say those names. Think about ways that name could be mispronounced. If you have a name with unusual characters, coming up with a mnemonic for pronunciation is helpful. My name, Þórý, is often mispronounced “Poury,” so my mnemonic is to say my name is like “Hooray!” with more Thor.

If you don’t want a period name, the Legal Name Allowance may be helpful. The Heralds will register one component of your legal name, be it you first, last, or middle name. The reason only one component of your name can be registered is because you are not your persona.

Once you have a first name, you will need to choose a last name and/or a place of origin. Both parts of your name need to be documentable within 300 years of each other, from the same culture, or from cultures that interacted with each other. You could have an English/French name, but a French/Japanese one is not registerable.

Locations are interesting because you can be from a place in history, or from your local SCA group. If you want to be from a historical place, you must provide period documentation of that place’s name, because spellings can change over time. (Ask a Herald for help. There are Heralds who love researching old maps and period documentation.) If you want to register a locative of an SCA group, that group must have registered its name with the College of Heralds.

If you don’t want to go through the process of choosing a name and surname, you can always register “[First Name] of [your local group].” This is sometimes called a “holding name” and can be important if you submit your name and device together, but for some reason your name doesn’t pass the registration process.

Once you have assembled your name and its documentation, you will need to submit the paperwork to your kingdom’s submissions herald. This requires mailing the paperwork and a processing fee with your submission. Fees vary by Kingdom, and they keep the heraldic servers and databases online.