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What’s in a name, and a coat of arms?

WHAT’S in a name? A fair bit, according to my 1904 copy of the Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland, a bulky tome that graces my bookshelf.

View the book’s index to names, coats of arms and mottoes by clicking here.

This book’s greatest feature is the colour plates in the front depicting the coats of arms of “the leading Irish families”. A few pages later are the mottoes – where applicable – translated from Latin inscriptions on the coats of arms.

Many familiar names pop up in these pages.

Ludicrous Lion from Living Island (left), Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and the Morrison coat of arms from The Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland.

The Morrison name is there, for example, with its coat of arms but sadly, no motto. The coat of arms is basically a red shield with a big cross through it, not unlike those “no smoking” or “no dogs” type signs we see these days. On top is the disembodied head of a lion, with what appears to be a lot of blood around its neck-stump and its tongue sticking outwards and upwards as if in salutation of some favoured object. To me, the head resembles that of Ludicrous Lion from Living Island in the HR Pufnstuf television series I watched as a child. I often imagine Australia is like Living Island in many respects, so perhaps that’s where the impression comes from.


Australian National Party politician Barnaby Joyce (left) and the Joyce coat of arms: vivid red and bewildered, with something unwieldy between its legs.

The Joyce coat of arms features a furious and vivid-red creature with something unwieldy dangling between its legs. On top is what looks like a cranky Alsation with an over-tight collar.


NSW ALP leader Jodie McKay (left) and the McKay coat of arms: two muzzled black rodents, a wreath tied to a wishbone and a couple of oyster knives.

The McKay coat of arms features the motto “by the strong hand”, which is very NSW ALP, when you think about it, as are the stumpy little knives that appear on each side of the shield, below a floating rabbit’s head and the heads of two muzzled black rats. At the bottom of the shield is a yellow wreath tied to a wishbone. The whole thing is topped by a knife-wielding hand emerging from what appears to be an inverted pair of men’s bathing trunks.


The Canavan coat of arms: a ripped-out tree on a barren field (left) and Australian resources minister Matt Canavan.

The Canavan coat of arms is a barren field with a ripped-out tree lying in the middle, perhaps symbolic of preparations for an open-cut mine of some type.


The Ronaynes: a daffy-looking young lady with levitating hair.

Leaving political figures aside, some families have great looking coats of arms. The Ronaynes, for example, have got a white shield with a  green branch on which a black bird is singing. But a bit further down the branch a bat is hanging upside down and the whole shield is topped by a daffy-looking young lady with levitating hair. The motto translates to “Brave and Faithful”.


The coat of arms of the Corbett family features a gleaming yellow shield bearing nothing but a whopping black crow with a belligerent glint in its eye. The shield is topped by a rather hungry-looking bushy-tailed dog, which is fortunately chained up. The motto matter-of-factly states: “God feeds the ravens”, presumably a biblical reference to the Christian teaching that we should not worry too much about where our next meal is coming from.


Ray coat of arms: a frightened green lizard.

This might be a misprint, but Ray appears to share a coat of arms and motto with McCarthy. The shield depicts a strutting red stag with its nose in the air, topped by a sleeved arm gripping a frightened-looking green lizard. The motto is: “To the brave and faithful, nothing is difficult”. Ahem.

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