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In Game of Thrones the various houses have various sigils and emblems. Some of these are particularly cool (like lions and wolves etc) but others less so.

How does a house select it's sigil? What method is used to prevent a clash?

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When a man raises into the nobility, (see this question to see how/when a house is created) he choses his own sigil. (The following is part speculation, part logic.)

For example, Davos chose the Boat and the Onion (his sons would have prefered the boat alone though). And Littlefinger chose the mocking bird (instead of the Titan's head, which was his family's sigil), long before he was made lord of harrenhal. So a man can just make a sigil for himself, even he is not representing a powerful house, provided he has enough social influence.

For the clash issue, colors are very important when it comes to flags, so if you really want something that already exists, just pick up some fancy colors and you'll be fine. Also, if the major houses have simple sigils, remember that some are very original (a fire chain for Bronn, IIRC).

EDIT in response to the comment : So I'm a new lord and I want a fox as a sigil. It's relatively close to the wolf, but instead of being grey on a white background, I'll make it orange on a yellow background, and I think it's ok. Now if I want a boat apple instead of a boat and onion... well, maybe the background will be checked-patterned, and the apple will be green. And instead of putting the onion over the boat, maybe I'll put a little boat inside of big apple. I'm sure one would be able to find differences to make it recognizable yet different from the original.

I don't know if there is an authority that is in charge to say whether it would be different enough. Maybe that would be the king. But even if it was not different enough, did you know that some countries have the same flag ?

  • So if I was knighted and I wanted a sigil of a Boat and Apple who would decide whethet it was too close to the boat and onion? – Stefan May 17 '13 at 13:38
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    Since there is no Trademark court in Westeros, I guess if the guy with the sigil yours is too close to doesn't come and batter your door down and ruthlessly kill everyone you know, you're okay. – Ash May 17 '13 at 13:53
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    In the real world, the College of Arms in London approves new coats of arms for the UK and Commonwealth. There may be a similar institution in Westeros that's not been discussed because it's not relevant to the plot. – Mike Scott May 17 '13 at 15:38
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    Realistically, you wouldn't want to be too close to someone else's sigil just in case you ever went to war with them. You don't want to have to take that extra moment in battle to decide if that guy in front of you is friend or foe. – fire.eagle May 17 '13 at 15:51
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    I imagine the Maesters have a big book with them all in... – Nick May 17 '13 at 17:33
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There are several instances in the books of people knights and lords choosing their own sigil. For the most part choosing the sigil seems to be a personal choice. New knights and lords are expected to pick a sigil to represent them. Younger sons (who do not inherit the lordship) sometimes create a sigil for themselves that is derived from the main sigil in order to distinguish themselves. In a few cases, a person would signal his breakaway from his house by using a different sigil.

As to who keeps track of all this we are never told. Although in all probability the sigils of the noble houses and renowned knights are recorded and tracked by the Maesters of the Citadel.

I'll spolierfy just in case.

The Hedge Knight (Novella)

Ser Duncan the Tall designed his own sigil (a shooting star over an elm tree) with the help of Tanselle just before he enters the tourney of Ashford. He was a new knight of common origins, so didn't have a sigil and couldn't use his late master's sigil since he wasn't related.

and

Ser Raymun Fossoway changed his sigil from the traditional family sigil of a red apple to a green apple as a sign of protest against his treacherous cousin. His descendants still use the green apple sigil.

The Sworn Sword (Novella)

Daemon Blackfyre was originally a bastard son of King Aegon IV Targaryen. When his father was dying he legitimized him. Daemon then chose a sigil for his new found house: a black dragon on a red field, the inverse of the traditional Targaryen sigil.

A Game of Thrones (Book 1)

The Cleganes (Gregor the Mountain and Sandor the Hound) became a noble house as reward when their grandfather, a kennelmaster for Tytos Lannister, saved his master from a lioness losing three dogs and a leg. The grandfather chose three dogs as his sigil.

A Clash of Kings (Book 2)

Ser Davos Seaworth was originally a smuggler by trade. He was knighted when he smuggled onions and other foods to the starving soldiers of the beseiged Storm's End. As rememberance he chose a ship and an onion as his sigil.

and

Peter "Littlefinger" Baelish uses a mockingbird as his sigil instead of his family's titan's head, possibly to distance himself from his family's reputation as a poor house.

and

King Joffrey Baratheon has his own personal coat of arms, partnering the Baratheon stag with the Lannister lion.

and

Big Walder Frey and Little Walder Frey display their own sigils that combine their father's Frey sigil with the sigil of their mother's house.

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