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Blazons & Genealogy Notes

1) (co. York). Sa. a fret engr. and in the dexter chief corner a cinquefoil ar.
2) Ar. fretty sa.

Origin, Meaning, Family History and Canfield Coat of Arms and Family Crest


Canfield, the English surname, is credited with two possible sources of origin. The first, and most likely, states the name is geographical or habitational as it is derivied from one of two locations found in Essex, England, Great Canfield or Little Canfield. Canfield is a compound word, the prefix Can comes from the old English given name “Cana” and the suffix, “feld” which translates to “open country”. The second, and less plausable source, states the name is of Norman origin, coming from the farming and agriculture area of Canville-les-Duex-Eglises in Normandy, France. In this context, if this is the source or the name, it would be geographical, as well.

Surnames had various sources of origins. Some people's surnames may have come from a familiar geographical location or a topographical landmark found near their home or birthplace or the name of the village in which the person lived. They may have also been identified by their given name plus their occupation, while others may have been identified by their given name and one of their parent's names. There was an endless supply from which surnames were culled, in addition to the use of patriarchal or matriarchal names or reference to the individuals occupation, there were things such as defining physical traits, and much more. As the practice continued, surnames became hereditary, representing entire families, not just an individual.

The use of surnames did not come into common practice in Europe, except among the noble classes, until the mid-sixteenth century. The popularity in the use of surnames developed out of necessity, clarity, and practicality. As populations in European cities grew, it became necessary for clarity's sake to add a qualifier to a person's given name to distinguish them from anotherwho may share the same common name. For practical purposes, governments found the use of surnames made the recording and tracking of people for census, taxation, and immigration purposes easier, as well.

The task of record keeping was primarily the responsibility of the churches, priories, and government as literacy was often a skill found only among the wealthy, the clergy, and those in government. Even so, there often existed multiple variations of names which was attributed to a number of factors; the origins of the surname, the lack of guidelines which existed for spelling, and the fact that many scribes and clergy members who were charged with record keeping spelled phonetically, among other things. Some of the early variations of this surname include; Canfield; Cannfield; Canfeld; Canville; and Canville, among others.

The earliest record of any variation of this surname is that of Richard de Camvilla which appears in the Oxford tax rolls from 1148. These rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King Stephen, dating back 700 years to the 12th century, they hold the distinction of being the oldest consecutive set of records detailing English governance in the United Kingdom.

Some of the first recorded immigrants to America bearing the surname were brothers, Thomas and Matthew Canfield who arrived in 1634 and settled in New Haven, Connecticut.

There were also immigrants to the British Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand bearing the surname Canfield. John Canfield landed in 1834 and settled in Saint John, New Brunswick. Brothers, Andrew and Michael Canfield were some of the early settlers to Australia, arriving in 1858 and settling in South Australia.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Canfield are found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Germany. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Canfield live in Alaska, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

There are many persons of note who bear the surname such as, American born publishing executive, Augustus Cass Canfield.

Canfield was educated at Groton School and Havard University, graduating in 1919, after which he served in the United States Army as a lieutenant during World War I. Canfield also attended New College, Oxford after which he toured Asia, retracing the route taken by Marco Polo.

Canfield returned to New York taking a job at the New York Post as a reporter and sales. In 1924, he became manager of Harper & Brothers in London where he held several executive positions. Among the writers whose work he highlighted in the magazine were James Thurber, E. B. White, J. B. Priestley, John Gunther, and Julian Huxley. Canfield was also responsible for the publishing of John Updike's first book.

Canfield Coat of Arms Meaning

The three main devices (symbols) in the Canfield blazon are the fret, cinquefoil and fretty. The two main tinctures (colors) are sable and argent.

Sable, the deep black so often found in Heraldry is believed to named from an animal of the marten family know in the middle ages as a Sabellinœ and noted for its very black fur 1. In engravings, when colors cannot be shown it is represented as closely spaced horizontal and vertical lines, and appropriately is thus the darkest form of hatching, as this method is known 2. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 3.

Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 4. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 5.

The fret is a striking charge, often occupying the whole of the field and being two instersecting diagonal lines interlaced with the outline of a square. 6 It is believed to be derived from the image of a fishing net, which it does indeed resemble, and hence Wade believes that it should signify persuasion, although other writers regard it separately as the “the heraldic true lovers knot” 7

Natural objects abound in heraldry, and one category that gives especial delight are the many flowers and flowering plants that frequently occur 8. The cinquefoil is also of this type, being drawn, at least a little, realistically and often to very pleasing effect. It is shown as five-petalled flower, each petal quite rounded but with a distinct tip. It is sometimes pierced with a hole in the centre and usually appears on its own, without any leaves. 9 It has no fixed colour but can appear in any of the available heraldic tinctures.

Fretty is a very pleasing patterning of the field whereby it is split into diamond shapes by overlapping and interwoven diagonal bands, where the background and the band colours may be any of the heraldic tinctures. 10. The family CAVE, from Kent are blessed with the simple arms of Azure, fretty or. Ancient writers, such as Guillim believed that the pattern represented a net and hence symbolised those skilled in the art of “persuasion”! 11

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  • 1 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Sable
  • 2 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 26
  • 3 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P35
  • 4 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 5 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P11
  • 6 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Fret
  • 7 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P118
  • 8 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P262
  • 9 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Cinquefoil
  • 10 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Fret
  • 11 A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, P234