There are several established clans which do not have a chief recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. In such cases clan members may wear the crest badge of the last known chief. In other cases, clan members wear crest badges based upon coats of arms of clan members who were never recognised chiefs. Crest badges can sometimes show one clan's association with another. For example, the crests and mottoes may be either identical or very similar to an other clans.
Although the term "clan crest" is most commonly used, it is a misnomer. There is in fact no such thing as a clan crest. Although it is possible to purchase "clan crests", and the crest badge itself can be owned by a clan member, the heraldic crest and motto of the badge belong to the chief alone and never the clan member. The crest and motto within and are the sole property of the chief, and clan members are only permitted to wear the badge in a show of allegiance to their clan and clan chief. It is illegal for a clan member to misappropriate the chief's crest and motto in acts such as decorating silverware and inscriptions on signet rings and jewellery. In short, coats of arms, crests and mottos are the personal property of one person only, and in terms of "clan crests" they are the property of the clan chief.
Crest badges are specifically used for clan members to wear, and are made out of silver or white metal. When illustrated, crest badges should only be printed in monochrome, and should not coloured. Women are entitled to wear the crest badge as a brooch, generally worn on the left side, and as such the crest badge may be of gold.
There are several established clans which do not have a chief recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. In such cases, clan members usually wear a crest badge which contains the crest and motto of the last known chief. However, there are several instances where such clans where crest badges which are based upon the arms of someone who was never a recognised clan chief. For example, Clan Macfie, which current does not have a chief, uses a crest badge which is derived from the arms of one of the first two Macfies who registered Arms at Lyon Court. Another clan —Clan MacEwen— whose chiefly line has been untraced since the 15th century, has a crest badge containing the crest and motto of a baronet bearing the surname McEwen. Oddly enough, the McEwen baronets may not have any actual link with the main Clan MacEwen at all. Another instance is the crest badge of Clan MacInnes. This crest badge is based upon a modern coat of arms of an armigerous clan member, not a clan chief.
When compared to English heraldry, crests have been considered to have played a relatively insignificant role in Scottish heraldry. In consequence many Scottish armigers, including clan chiefs, have comparatively similar crests to one another. Because of this, crest badges can sometimes show an obvious association with another clan. For example, many of the clans associated with the Chattan Confederation contain very share very similar crest badges bearing wild cats. Several clans associated with Clan Campbell —Clan Campbell of Breadalbane, Clan MacIver and Clan MacTavish— use a crest badges which contain similar crests and mottoes that allude to that of the chief of Clan Campbell.
A person does not need to be a member of a clan society to be able to wear a crest badge. Any clan member has a right to it, not just clan societies and clan society members. According to the Court of the Lord Lyon clan membership goes with the surname. Clan membership does not automatically pass through a woman who has changed her name in marriage and through to her children — thus children are members of their fathers' clan. Although, today many people who do not bear a clan surname do wear crest badges of their mother's clan, and anyone who offers their allegiance to a clan chief is a member of a clan (unless the chief decides to refuse that person's allegiance). Many people bear names that, while not actual clan surnames, are sept names or associated names of certain clans. Surnames such as Smith, Wright, Fletcher, and Miller are examples as such names that are associated names or many clans (as every clan would have its own smiths, wrights, fletchers and millers). It is up to the individual to explore their personal ancestry and discovery the correct clan that they belong to.
|Crest||A crest stands above the wreath which stands above the shield in a coat of arms. It is impossible to own a crest if one has not in possession of a coat of arms, as the crest is adjunct to the coat or arms. In Scottish Heraldry the crest is usually accompanied with the motto or slogan, and sometimes an additional motto or slogan is granted which may also appear on a clan member's crest badge.|
|Wreath||The wreath appears appears on a coat of arms between the crest and helmet. When on a crest badge, the wreath is always shown below the crest to show that it is a heraldic crest and not another object.|
|Coronet||In some cases a coronet or antique crown (pictured) replaces the wreath in crests. The coronet, referred to as a "crest coronet", consists of three visible strawberry leaves (one and two halves). An antique crown consists of five visible arches (three and two halves).|
|Chapeau||In some cases the heraldic chapeau replaces the wreath in crests, it can also sometimes appear between the wreath and the crest. The chapeau indicates the owner's baronial rank.|
A clan chief is the head of his or her clan/family, and is the representer of the family's founder. A clan chief must be recognised as such by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and must possess the undifferenced arms of their name.
Clan chiefs may wear their crest simpliciter, that is without being encircled by the motto and without any feathers. It is more common, however, for a clan chiefs to wear their own personal crest within a plain circlet inscribed with their motto or slogan (pictured left). The chief's crest badge does not contain the strap and buckle that other clan members are permitted to wear. Clan chiefs are also entitled to wear three eagle feathers behind the circlet of their crest badge. On certain occasions, such as clan gatherings, it may be appropriate to use real eagle feathers. Clan chiefs that are members of the British Peerage are entitled to wear the appropriate coronet above the circlet on their crest badge, though this is a matter of personal preference.
Clan chieftains are the representers of large branches of a Scottish clan. They are officially recognised as clan chieftains by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
Clan chieftains, like clan chiefs, may wear their own personal crest within a plain circlet inscribed with their own motto or slogan. Clan chieftains may also wear two small eagle feathers (unlike the chief's three). On certain occasions real eagle feathers may be worn behind the crest badge. If a clan chieftain is a member of the British Peerage, he or she is permitted to wear the appropriate coronet above the circlet on their crest badge.
Clan chieftains may also to wear the crest badge of their chief in the same manner as an un-armigerous clan member (see Un-armigerous clan members below).
In terms of Scottish Heraldry, an armiger is someone who has registered his or her own coat of arms, or has inherited a coat of arms according to the Laws of Arms in Scotland from an ancestor who had arms recorded in the Lyon Register.
Armigers, like clan chiefs and chieftains, may wear their own personal crest within a plain circlet inscribed with their own motto or slogan. Armigers are permitted to wear one silver eagle feather behind the circlet (or on certain occasions a real eagle feather). If an Armiger is a member of the British Peerage he or she is permitted to wear the appropriate coronet above the circlet on their crest badge. If an Armiger is a member of a Scottish clan he or she may wear the crest badge of their chief, however it must be encircled by a strap and buckle (see Un-armigerous clan members below).
Members of Scottish clans are considered to be relatives of their clan chief. They can be either immediate family or extended family. Clan members can also be people who only bear the "clan surname" or a sept name associated with the clan. Anyone who professes allegiance to both the clan and it's chief can be considered a clan member. All clan members may wear the chief's crest encircled by a strap and buckle inscribed with their chief's motto or slogan. The strap and buckle symbolises the membership to the clan and allegiance to the clan chief.