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Blazons & Genealogy Notes

Azure a saltire or, between four cross crosslets fitchee argent.

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


The name Russ is considered an Anglo-Saxon surname it was introduced into England at the time of the Norman conquest led by William the Conqueror. It is derived from the Latin word Rufus which when translated means”red”. The Normans are thought to have used the term “rouse” which translates to “red hair” in reference to the Anglo-Saxons, many of who had red hair.

Surnames in Britain prior to the Norman conquest were largely unheard of. In the small settlements and villages which existed during earlier times, residents found little need for surnames as everyone in these communities new each other and a given name would usually suffice. However, with the passage of time, population growth and expansions of communities as villages gave way to towns and cities, it became necessary to add a qualifier to a people's names to distinguish them, one from another. Therefore one person may have been identified by their given name plus their occupation while another may have been identified by their given name and one of their parent's names. The introduction of surnames by the Norman aristocracy after the invasion seemed to be the next logical step in this evolution. There was a boundless supply from which surnames could be formed, in addition to the use of patriarchal/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 individuals home or birthplace, the name of the village in which the person lived, and so much more. Soon, surnames would come not just to represent an individual but whole families.

There often exists variations in spelling of many surnames, as with many given names which date back to the early centuries. The variation in spelling of both given and surnames during this time period can be attributed to a lack of continuity regarding guidelines for spelling which was compounded by the diversity of languages in use in European countries at this time. The variations in the spelling of the surname Russ include but not limited to; Rouse, Rous, Russ, Ruse, Roswell; Ruskin; and Rowse among others. There are also numerous French forms of the name as well; Roue; de Riou; Rioux; Rieux; and Rou.

The earliest record of any variation of this surname is that of Wilkin Rous which appears in the Lancashire tax rolls from 1225. These rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King Henry III, 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. These records span a period of over 700 years and have proven invaluable to researches over the years. Additional tax rolls show records John Russe from Wiltshire in 1218. The marriage of Edward Russ and Elizabeth Willoughby appear in church records found in London dated 1724.

The first recorded immigrant to America bearing the surname or any variation of the spelling was Alester Russ who arrived in 1651 and settled in Maryland. Thomas Russ landed and settled in Maryland in 1671 and James Russ arrived and settled in Maryland in 1677.

There were also many immigrants to the British Commonwealth countries of Canada and New Zealand bearing the surname Russ. Carl Russ landed in 1850 and settled in Quebec, Canada. John and Elizabeth Russ landed in 1842 and settled in Nelson, New Zealand. Brothers, Jacob and Johan Russ landed in 1857 and settled in Nelson, New Zealand as well.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Russ are found in Austria, New Zealand, Germany, the United States, and Australia. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Russ live in Maryland and Virginia.

There are many persons of note who bear the surname Russ. Robert Dale Russ was born in Portland, Oregon. He attended Washington State University under the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. After earning his BA degree in business administration, he was put on active duty and stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. While in Texas, Russ completed pilot training and he completed gunnery school at Arizona and Nevada. In 1965, Russ completed Air Command and Staff College and earned his Masters Degree in Business Administration from George Washington University, after which he was assigned to Air Defense Command Headquarters. In 1967, he was sent to Cam Ranh Air Base in Vietnam where as a fighter pilot, he flew 242 combat missions, 50 of which were to North Vietnam. Russ returned to the United States in 1969 and worked for the Office of Deputy Chief of Staff at the United States Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1970, he went to work for the Join Chiefs of Staff. In 1973, he was assigned as vice commander of Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and in 1974 he was reassigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. For his service, Russ received over twenty medals including a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross (with two oak clusters) and a Purple Heart.

Russ Coat of Arms Meaning

The two main devices (symbols) in the Russ blazon are the cross crosslet and saltire. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, or and argent .

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.

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) 6. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 7.

No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 8. Mediaeval Europe was a deeply religious and Christian and many of the nobility wanted to show their devotion by adopting the symbol of the cross as part of the arms. Since no two arms could be identical there arose many variants of the cross. The cross crosslet is one of these, being symetrical both vertically and horizontally and having an additional cross bar on each arm. 9 Wade suggests that these additional crossing signify “the fourfold mystery of the Cross”. 10

The saltire is one the major ordinaries, large charges that occupy the whole of the field 11. Arguably one of the best uses of this device is that of the St. Andrews Cross, a white saltire on a blue background found on the Scottish flag. The saltire is obviously closely related to the Cross, and Wade in his work on Heraldic Symbology suggests additionally that it alludes to “Resolution”, whilst Guillim, an even more ancient writer, somewhat fancifully argues that it is awarded to those who have succesfully scaled the walls of towns! 12

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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 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 7 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P11
  • 8 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 47
  • 9 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Cross Crosslet
  • 10 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P103
  • 11 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Saltire
  • 12 A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, P63