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Jay Coat of Arms Meaning

The four main devices (symbols) in the Jay blazon are the dolphin, rose, jay and Midas’ head. The two main tinctures (colors) are gules and azure.

Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”1. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 2. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.3.

The bright, strong blue color in Heraldry is known in English as azure, and similarly in other European languages – azul in Spanish, azurro in Italian and azur in French. The word has its roots in the Arabic word lazura, also the source of the name of the precious stone lapis lazuli 4. Despite this, those heralds who liked to associate colours with jewels chose instead to describe blue as Sapphire. According to Wade, the use of this colour symbolises “Loyalty and Truth” 5.

In the days before television and the internet it was a rare heraldic artist that had ever seen a dolphin for real, so we should not be surprised that the heraldic representation is not instantly recognisable. Despite this, we should not forget that these artists considered the dolphin to be the king of fish, playing the same role as the lion in the animal kingdom. 6 For reasons not immediately clear, Wade suggests that the dolphin was regarded as an “affectionate fish, fond of music”. 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 rose is also of this type, being drawn, at least a little, realistically and often to very pleasing effect. It has long been present in English heraldry, and as a badge and symbol played an enormous in English history throughout the conflict between rival dynasties known as the War of the Roses. In addition to these familial uses, Wade suggests that red roses signify “beauty and grace” and the white represents “love and faith”. 9

Birds of great variety occur throughout heraldry, at least in name 10. In truth, despite the proliferation of species, the actual depictions can sometimes be hard to distinguish! The crane, heron and stork are commonly to be found on a coat of arms but all tend to share the same stylised appearance 11. The jay is amongst the mjaor bird species to appear in heraldry.

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


This surname is of English and French origin. The English variant was derived from the medieval English “jaye” as in the bird. The French variant was derived from the old French “gai” from the Latin “gaius” which translates to joyful. In either case, the name(s) would have been used as a nickname for someone who displayed the characteristics of a jay bird or one who was happy and a lively person.

The variations in the spelling of the surname includes; Jay; Jaye; Jays; and Jayes among others. The variations in spelling of surnames dating back to ancient times can be attributed to a lack of consistency regarding guidelines for spelling in use by the scribes who recorded such information, many of which were in the habit of spelling phonetically. The issue of multiple spellings of names in records was compounded by the diversity of languages in use in European countries at this time.

Until the mid to late sixteenth century, surnames were rarely if ever used. In the small settlements and villages which existed during earlier times in most of Europe, residents found little need for surnames as everyone in these communities knew each other and a given name would usually suffice. However, as communities grew and people began to migrate on a larger scale, along with the need of the government having a reliable way to track people for tax and census purposes, the aristocracy’s penchant for using surnames seemed the appropriate evolution to this problem. In most instances to distinguish themselves, one from another, those not of the noble class would often be 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 a limitless supply from which surnames could be formed, in addition to the use of patriarchal or matriarchal names, or reference to the individuals occupation, there were things such as defining physical traits, a familiar geographical location or a topographical landmark found near the individual’s home or birthplace, the name of the village in which the person lived, and so much more. Over the course or time, surnames would come not just to represent an individual but whole families.

One of the earliest record of any variation of this surname is that of Gilbert Jai which appears in the Lincolnshire tax rolls from 1199. The tax rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King John, with the oldest dating back over seven hundred years to the 12th century. These documents are considered the oldest concentric set of records detailing English governance in the United Kingdom spanning a period of over seven centuries.

With the discovery of America and the addition to the British Commonwealth of countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it was not long before people began to immigrate to these outlying areas. The use of surnames made tracking of immigrants easier. One of the first recorded immigrants to America bearing the surname was Thomas Jay who landed and settled in Virginia in 1635. Robert Jay landed and settling in Maryland in 1674. Robert Jay was one of the early settlers to Canada, landing and settling in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1833. Edward Jay and his sons, Richard and Samuel, are some of the early settlers to Australia, arriving and settling in South Australia in 1855.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Jay are found in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and India. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Jay live in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

There are many notable people with the surname such as American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, John Jay. He was also a President of the Continental Congress, signer of the United States Constitution, one of the authors of The Federalist Papers, a negotiator of the Treaty of Paris wherein Great Britain recognized the United States independence, Governor of New York, and the first Chief Justice of the United States among other achievements.

John Jay’s childhood home located in Rye, New York is a New York state historic site. The house in Katonah, New York where he lived after retiring is also a New York state historic site.

Blazons & Genealogy Notes

1) (co. Devon). Ar. a chev. az. betw. three jays ppr.
2) (Selston, co. Nottingham). Gu. on a bend ar. three roses of the field. Crest—On a ducal coronet or, a griffin sejant az. resting the dexter foot on an escutcheon gu.
3) (Sheriff of Norfolk, 1678). Same Arms, bend engr.
4) (Scotland). Az. three dolphins naiant or. Crest—A lion’s paw holding a thistle ppr.
5) Az. a lion saliant and a canton or, a bordure engr. of the second.
6) Ar. three Midas’ heads erased sa. crowned or.
7) (Holme). Gu. four chains fixed to an annulet in fess saltireways ar.

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  • 1 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36
  • 2 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 3 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P77
  • 4 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Azure
  • 5 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36
  • 6 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Dolphin
  • 7 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P83
  • 8 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P262
  • 9 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P132-133
  • 10 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P233
  • 11 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P164