Wednesday, 2010 June 16, 19:27 — fandom, heraldry

heraldic heresy, the afterthought

The Society for Creative Anachronism keeps a registry of coats-of-arms adopted by members, for two reasons: to ensure uniqueness, and to head off the grossest faux pas (cluttered design, offensive symbolism, implied claims to be the Lost Dauphin …). Having registered my shield — whose central motif you may be able to guess — I can say with confidence that it will not be mistaken for any other (within SCA at least), and that the SCA’s collective heraldic judgement, honed over many years by hundreds of serious people, finds my design-sense tolerably sound. An institution that can be trusted to certify these points is a good thing.

In the case that started the furore, registration of the device would (I believe) imply that the badge also fits the criteria. Separate certification of the badge, then, would be redundant — a double cost for the registrant, duplicated work for the heralds (both now and in checking for similarity to future entries), and a waste of a hundred bytes in the record-books, all to certify what is already established.

It occurs to me belatedly that some see registration less as certification than as permission, an attitude inherited from traditions where the privilege of such display is a mark of favor from the Crown. (In the SCA, any bozo can register a coat of arms, but it’s not called “arms” until the bearer is formally ennobled by some prince.)

(It so happens that Scotland, which may be the only place where unauthorized armorial display is prosecuted, is also home to some of the best heraldic style. I won’t argue here whether it’s necessary to embrace the bathwater along with the baby. Switzerland also has excellent style, at least in civic armory; I don’t know about the laws there.)

To display arms, then, is to assert not only this emblem is unique to me and this emblem is well-designed but also I have permission to display such an emblem. If the culture considers prohibition to be the default state — not as an unfortunate practical necessity to maintain the standards of taste and uniqueness, but as a good thing in itself, a matter of “honor” forsooth! — then that third claim is the one that counts, and to make it falsely is not a mere technical infraction but an affront to decency.

The College of Arms also registers names, on similar principles: a registered name needs to be grammatical (in some language), not too similar to another registered name or that of any prominent historical figure, not a claim of supernatural origin or powers, and like that. I would ask, if the discussion were still open, whether use of an unregistered name is equally dishonorable.

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