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Blazons & Genealogy Notes

(Bradwell, co. Suffolk). Ermine on a chevron sable three bezants.

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


The medieval English name Skipper derives its origins from the medieval German or Dutch word “schipper” which was the title given to a person who worked on board a ship. The title eventually was used in reference to the master or captain of the ship. However, there are instances of the name appearing in documents prior to or in the early parts of the middle-ages may come from a second source. The name is also an Anglicized derivative of the old Norse “skeppa”, which was introduced into England during the Viking age was the name for craftsmen who were basket-makers. In both context, the names would be considered occupational.

As can be seen from the previous information, 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; Skipper; Skipp; Skippe; Skiper; Skypper; and Skypp, among others.

The earliest record of any variation of this surname is that of Simon Sceppere which appears in the Cambridge tax rolls from 1221. These rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King Henry III, 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.

With the discovery of America, it wasn't long before immigrants set off for the “New World”. Some of the first recorded immigrants to America bearing the surname were Edward Skipper who arrived in 1650 and settled in Virginia. William Skipper landed in 1663 and settled in Maryland.

There were also immigrants to the British Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand bearing the surname Skipper. John Micheal Skipper landed in Australia in 1836 and settled in Holdfast Bay.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Skipper are found in Denmark, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Skipper live in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and North Carolina.

There are many persons of note who bear the surname such as, American born oncologist, Howard E. Skipper. Skipper was educated at the University of Florida where he received his Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, and PhD. During World War II, Skipper served in the United States Army researching chemical warfare. It was during this time, he developed his interest in cancer research. After the war, he devoted his time and energies to cancer research as the head of the Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.

Skipper Coat of Arms Meaning

The two main devices (symbols) in the Skipper blazon are the chevron and bezant. The three main tinctures (colors) are ermine, sable and gules .

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 1 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 2. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.3. The ermine spot is sometimes found alone as a special charge on the shield.

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 4. 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 5. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 6.

The bold red colour on a heraldic shield is known as gules. It has a long history within heraldry, it is known that one of those who besieged the scottish castle of Carlaverock in 1300 was the French knight Euremions de la Brette who had as his arms a simple red shield.7. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” 8. Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron 9, perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.

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 10, or additional cross-pieces used to strengthen the shield and painted a different colour.11. It has also acquired the meaning of “Protection… granted… to one who has achieved some notable enterprise” 12, possibly becuase of its resemblance to the roof truss of a house.

For easy recognition of the items on a coat of arms, and hence the quick identification of the owner, bold simple shapes are best. Hence, simple geometric shapes are often used for this purpose 13xz`, and the bezant Is a typical example of this, and in British Heraldry always takes the tincture or. It shares the same root as the name Byzantium, being associated with the gold coin of that city and indeed, in some heraldic traditions is represented as a coin-like disk in perspective. Wade suggests that the use of this device refers to ” one who had been found worthy of trust and treasure.” 14

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  • 1 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P69
  • 2 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P39
  • 3 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 28
  • 4 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Sable
  • 5 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 26
  • 6 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P35
  • 7 The Siege of Carlaverock, N. Harris, Nichols & Son, London, 1828, P180
  • 8 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 313
  • 9 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 10 A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, (various)
  • 11 The Pursuivant of Arms, J. R. Planche, Hardwicke, London 1859
  • 12 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P45
  • 13 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P146
  • 14 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P122