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The Polish Coats of Arms & Nobility system

rich_leeds 3 | 5
14 Aug 2011 #1
Hi all

Can someone explain about the Polish Coat of Arms system?

My grandfather talked about his grandmothers family been nobility and she used to come to town when he was a child on a droska and the locals used to line the streets to see her.

Now, her surname would of been either Malowany or Radzikowska (unsure which grandmother he would of been reffering to). I have seen on various websites that Radzikowski(a) belongs to the Ogonczyk coat of arms but what does this actually mean? Does every polish family with the name Radzikowski use this coat of arms or is it specifically given to individual families etc etc? Is there a way to trace which Radzikowski families were given the COA?

I know uts probably a really simple answer but Im just getting confused!

Polonius3 986 | 12,343
14 Aug 2011 #2
Poland's heraldic/clan system began emerging in the 13th century. A knight, or more rarely non-combatant, usually was ennobled by the king as a reward for some feat of battlefield valour. That meant that he was granted a coat of arms and started his own clan. That clan-name (which was also the name of the coat of arms) indicated the clan someone belonged to through patrilineal inheritance (from one's father's line), adoption or marriage, and many variously surnamed and unrelated individuals shared the same clan-name. The Ogończyk c-o-a is shared by the noble lines of 318 different families from Afri to Żółtowski.

The term 'Radzikowski herbu Ogończyk' meant nothing more than 'Radzikowski of the Ogończyk clan.' The clan-name also became part of its bearer's signature, so a nobleman baptised Stanisław would have signed himself Stanisław Ogończyk-Radzikowski. Often colourful medieval legends surrounded the emergence of noble clans and the coats of arms they identified with.

The Ogończyk legend goes back to the 13th century, when a brave young knight named Piotr of Radzików (Piotr z Radzikowa, subsequently Piotr Radzikowski) wrested the kidnapped only daughter of a local aristocrat named Odrowąż from the hands of a pagan invader. He was rewarded with the daughter's hand in marriage and the crest, a modified version of the Odrowąż family coat of arms. The protruding hands apparently symbolized the knight's hands which pulled the maiden out of the pagan's clutches (or those of the maiden reaching for help). The white design on the red shield itself is supposed to symbolize a moustache impaled on an arrow, alluding to an earlier legend of a Polish knight ripping off a pagan enemy's moustache, nose and all.

Actually there were 4 noble lines amongst the Radzikowskis. The others were Rawicz, Rogala and Wieniawa. On average, from 10-12% of Old Polish society was of noble rank, meaning that the vast majority were commoners, but that differed according to the name. The adjectival -ski ending (and its variants -cki and -dzki) were the most common noble names. The second most common Polish surname Kowalski had 12 separate noble lines, but the most common Nowak - only one.

You may view many Polish coats of arms at:

To find out if your family line was of noble ancestry would require a full-blown heraldic/genealogical search. If interested, perhaps the following may be able to help:

Institute of Genealogy: instytut-genealogii
Rudy5 13 | 36
12 Sep 2012 #3
Merged: Finding your Polish family's real coat of arms - which site?

I have found my family coat of arms online(, but i dont know if it's a legit site. Is there a legit site that i could look at?
Bieganski 17 | 888
12 Sep 2012 #4
Heraldry is still regarded as a very serious business in some quarters. The only legitimate institution I ever heard of that is still active in this field is Britain's College of Arms

Notably they were involved in the design for the granting of arms to Prince William as well as his wife the Duchess of Cambridge. In the UK the convention is that each eligible person is granted their own individual one which may draw on elements used by ancestors but they are never identical.

My understanding is that only szlachta in Poland were given the right to have arms and that Polish nobles followed a different system whereby certain families shared the same coat arms; more like a clan system.

But how seriously can you take the website you gave regarding heraldry - which is supposed to be a sign of achievement and respectability - when they are pushing you to buy stock images with your surname emblazoned on key chains, baseball caps, coffee mugs and beer mats?

Although heraldry can be an interesting topic to read you should bear in mind that since Poland and America are republics no one living in either of them has a legitimate claim to a coat of arms even if they happen to share the same surname with someone who did centuries ago.
23 May 2013 #5
With all due respect, I don't know how things work in Poland, but in America every citizen is entitled to wear ad display a coat of arms. The difference is that America has no central governmental body for issuing or regulating arms like they have in other countries where heraldry was originally practiced. Therefore, in America, every person ha the right to adopt a private coat of "arms assumptive", which may or may not be based on an ancestor's coat. The only restriction is that you cannot pick for your own arms a design which is registered as the private property of another living person. If I tried to use the coat of arms of England or of a citizen of Scottland or something, obviously that would be a problem and they could sue me to change my arms.

Basic overview on the American system of heraldry:
--Every American citizen may bear a coat of arms to represent themselves.
--America uses assumptive arms rather than matriculated arms.
--Arms assumptive are not issued by the government, but rather designed by the bearer.
--There are several American organizations where you can register your arms. This is not a government service, so it does not grant any special protections for your chosen blazon, but it is an effort to collect a database to assure no one copies another's arms.

--Americans may sometimes petition for their arms to be matriculated by the governments of other countries, such as the English College of Arms or the Lord Lyon of Scotland. If a petition is granted, the arms becomes the legal property of the bearer within the country that granted the arms, and no one else may use that design.

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