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Blazons & Genealogy Notes

(Nantwich, co. Chester; Thomas Masterson, of this place, was taken prisoner at Flodden). Ermine a chevron azure between three garbs or. Crest—An heraldic tiger passant, argent.

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


As surnames go, Masterson finds its origins in one of the most ancient of sources. Originally from the Roman-Latin “magister” which translates to a superior or a leader. It would have also been used to distinguish a tribal elder or chief. The root word from which Masterson derives predates the common era and would certainly have been used during the Roman occupation of England between 55 and 410 A.D.; although the modern spelling and the usage of it as a surname would not have come about until sometime after the Norman invasion in 1066. The use of surnames did not become a common practice among the general population until the mid-sixteenth century. Until this time, surnames were generally reserved solely for the noble class.

Surnames were often created by using an identifying factor about a person such as; a familiar geographical location or a topographical landmark found near the individuals home or birthplace, using one of their parent's names to create a patriarchal or matriarchal surname, their occupation, or a defining physical trait among other things. There was almost a limitless source from which surnames could be formed.

The use of surnames were found to serve a practical purposes, aside from making the distinction between people with like given names easier, it also allowed governments to more effectively track people for census, tax and immigration purposes.

The task of record keeping was primarily under the jurisdiction of the Church, local priories, and the government. This was due in large part to the fact that literacy was a skill usually found only among the nobles, the clergy, and government officials and scribes. Even so, there often existed multiple variations of names which may be 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 who were charged with record keeping spelled phonetically, among other things. One of the earliest records of anyone bearing the surname or any variation of its spelling is that of Augues le Maistre which appears in the Cambridge tax rolls dated 1273. These tax rolls were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King Edward I, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. They hold the distinction of being the oldest consecutive set of records detailing English governance in the United Kingdom. Some other early variations of the name include; Masterson; Mastersen; Masterstone; and Masters among others.

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. Some of the first recorded

immigrants to America bearing the surname were Nathaniel and Mary Masterson and their children, Richard and Sarah who landed and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1629. Elizabeth Masterson landed in 1655 and settled in Virginia. Henry Masterson was one of the early settlers to New Zealand, landing and settling in Auckland in 1865.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Masterson are found in Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Masterson live in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Indiana.

There are many persons of note who bear this surname such as British born Wayne Masterson, whose pioneering work in tropical disease, primarily African trypanosomiasis more commonly known as sleeping sickness, resulted in a major breakthrough in more effective treatments for the illness. Masterson was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford and Cambridge University where he received his Ph.D. He was awarded a post-doctorate research position at Johns Hopkins University where many of his breakthroughs were made.

British born Margaret Valerie Masterson is a an English opera singer (retired), lecturer, and Vice-President of British Youth Opera. Masterson was the principle soprano with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. She then joined the English National Opera where she performed internationally for over thirty years. She has been appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Music.

Masterson Coat of Arms Meaning

The three main devices (symbols) in the Masterson blazon are the garb, chevron and tiger. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, or and ermine .

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 1. 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” 2.

Or is the heraldic metal Gold, often shown as a bold, bright yellow colour. It is said to show “Generosity and elevation of the mind” 3. Later heralds, of a more poetic nature liked to refer to it as Topaz, after the gemstone, and, for obvious reasons associated it with the Sun 4. In drawings without colour it is usually represented by many small dots, or by the letter ‘O’ 5.

Ermine is a very ancient pattern, and distinctive to observe. It was borne alone by John de Monfort, the Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany in the late 14th century 6 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 7. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.8. The ermine spot is sometimes found alone as a special charge on the shield.

Europe in the middle ages was still a largely agrarian society, and the wealth of the nobility resided in their estates and land. Since most people still lived and worked on the land they would find farm implements instantly recognisable, (an important feature for a coat of arms), even if they seem obscure to us today. 9 The garb for example is an ancient word for wheatsheaf, something now more frequently seen in Inn signs than in the field! 10

The chevron is one the major shapes used upon a shield, known as ordinaries. The inverted ‘V’ of the chevron is perhaps thought to have originated to represent a military scarf folded on the shield 11, or additional cross-pieces used to strengthen the shield and painted a different colour.12. It has also acquired the meaning of “Protection… granted… to one who has achieved some notable enterprise” 13, possibly becuase of its resemblance to the roof truss of a house.

In the mediaeval period there was no real percieved difference between real and mythical animals, after all, much of the world remained unknown and who was to say what strange and magical creatures existed in distant lands? 14 The tiger is an interesting example here being named after a real animal but depicted in rather and mythical appearance. 15 Later arms came to use a more lifelike appearance and the usage of heraldic tiger and natual tiger arose to make the distinction. Wade tells us that the mythical bearing of such a creature signifies “great fierceness and valour when enraged” and suggests that we should be wary as the holder may be “one whosee resentment will be dangerous if aroused”! 16

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  • 1 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Azure
  • 2 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36
  • 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 Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P76-77
  • 6 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P69
  • 7 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P39
  • 8 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 28
  • 9 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 86
  • 10 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Garbe
  • 11 A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, (various)
  • 12 The Pursuivant of Arms, J. R. Planche, Hardwicke, London 1859
  • 13 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P45
  • 14 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P191
  • 15 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Tiger
  • 16 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P63