An OSCAR Commentary Checklist

The SCA’s College of Arms processes around three thousand name and armory submissions per year, attempting to ensure that each is properly structured, historically plausible, and unique within the society. A distributed system of commentary allows the burden of this process to be shared among multiple heralds and minimizes the number of things that fall through the cracks.

By commenting on Letters of Intent, first at the kingdom level and then at the Society level, these other heralds help to catch problems, suggest additional resources, and highlight issues that need to be considered during the monthly decision meetings in which the senior-most heralds make the final determinations as to whether submissions will be accepted or returned.

The online system used for commentary is named OSCAR (the Online System for Commentary and Response), which was introduced around 2005 to replace the previous process which involved sending photocopies of submissions and heraldic comments back and forth by postal mail.

Below is a checklist of some of the things I check when reviewing names and armory in OSCAR — it’s not exhaustive, and other people would approach this process slightly differently, but if you’re just beginning to participate in the commentary process, this gives you a possible reference point to start from.

Note that you’re not required to check all of these items for all submissions — in fact, a lot of heralds end up specializing in certain areas, like only focusing on names from a certain language group, or only running conflict checks on armory — so feel free to pick and choose which things you’re going to work on.

And remember, when commenting you don’t have to have authoritative answers for everything — it’s fine to ask questions, or say “I’m not sure, but I wonder if this rule might apply to this case,” or just provide a link or piece of extra information that might make it easier for other people to make the final decision.

Names

Documentation:
  • Scans are included, or sources are on the no-photocopy list (see Admin Handbook Appendix H).
  • If links provided for web resources, they work when they’re clicked and bring up the correct resource.
  • Each name element exists in the referenced documentation…
    … using the submitted spelling exactly as shown…
    … as actual entries not just modern header forms….
    … and are either specifically dated, or the whole source is dated to a specific period.
  • If the documentation seems insufficient, can you find any relevant sources to supplement it?
Construction:
  • Personal name structure matches one listed for this language group (see SENA Appendix A) — or documentation is provided for the name construction.
  • Personal name elements are dated within 500 years of each other and are from a single regional naming group — or are dated within 300 years and are from compatible regional naming groups (see SENA Appendix C).
  • Household names follow a documented pattern (such as one from Alys’s Simple Guide to Household Names).
  • Order names follow a documented pattern (such as one from Alys’s Simple Order Name Checklist).
Conflicts:
  • Search for names using the same elements or variations that could sound similar.
  • Sufficient difference is established through addition or removal of a syllable, or a change in spelling of at least two letters of a syllable (a vowel and a consonant) that causes the sound to be different.
  • If you find some existing registrations that seem to conflict, or are questionable, or very close but probably clear, mention those in a comment.

Armory

Identifiability:
  • When looking at the image, a person familiar with medieval armory would be able to recognize the charges — e.g. the beast looks like a bear or a dog or a lion, not just a generic quadruped.
Charge Groups:
  • No ambiguity between primary and secondary charges (“sword and dagger”)
  • No charge group contains more than two charge types (“slot machine”).
  • All of the charges in a group that could be in the same posture/orientation, are so (“unity of orientation” / “unity of posture”).
  • No charges on tertiaries or overall charges (“excessive stacking”).
  • Overall charges extend well beyond the underlying charges without obscuring them (“barely overall”).
Contrast:
  • Parts of a multiply-divided field or charge have contrast with each other (not required for the common divisions of two or four pieces).
  • Primary and secondary charges have contrast with the field they’re on.
  • Tertiary charges have contrast with the charge they overlay.
  • Overall charges have contrast with the field, and do not share tinctures with the charges they overlay.
  • Contrast here means they’re not both metals, they’re not both colors, and there are no shared tinctures along the boundary where they meet.
Complexity:
  • If you count all of the tinctures, and all of the charge types (ignoring field divisions), the total is not higher than eight.
Blazon:
  • Terms are in standard order: field, primaries, non-peripheral secondaries, tertiaries on those charges, peripheral secondaries, tertiaries on peripherals, overall charges. (See Bruce’s “A Grammar of Blazonry”.)
  • Charge are described with number, type, complex line, posture, arrangement, orientation, tinctures, omitting any that are inapplicable or in their defaults.
  • All of the terms in the blazon are ones we use (use blazon pattern search for words you don’t recognize to see if they’ve been registered since 2012).
Documented Elements:
  • All divisions, complex lines, charge types, animal postures, and charge arrangements have either been registered since 2012, or are supported by documentation as dating to period.
  • No plants, animals, or objects that were only discovered or invented after 1600.
Marshaling:
  • If the field is divided per pale or quarterly, with plain lines, without charges that overlay the lines of division, and with each section plausibly registrable as independent armory, it might look like marshalling, which we don’t register.
Period Style:
  • Charges should fill the available space (or else “feed ‘em some charge chow”).
  • Complex lines should use a limited number of large repeats, not tiny zigzags (bumps should be “big and bold” not like “pinking shears”).
  • Ideally, the symmetry and use of space should match a visual style found in period.
  • Style problems may result in an artist’s note and are not always a cause for return.
Reserved and Restricted Charges:
  • Reserved charges, like crowns, loops of chain, or laurel wreaths, may only be used with appropriate evidence of entitlement. (Glossary Table 2.)
  • No restricted charges of the Red Cross, or traditional national symbols, like a red-and-white Tudor Rose, Chinese Imperial five-toed dragon, or a Papal cross. (Glossary Table 3.)
No Offensive Elements:
  • No prohibited charges like the swastika, flaming cross, or Hand of Glory. (Glossary Table 3.)
  • No depictions of human genitals, overly gory violence, degrading or insulting images.
  • Not excessively modern to the point where it would break the medieval atmosphere.
Conflicts:
  • You can look up the primary charge (or field division, for field-primary armory) in the Ordinary to find everything that could possibly conflict and then check by hand.
  • You can construct a complex search using armorial categories and features found in my.cat, then ignore items scored two points or more below the maximum possible, and check the remainder by hand.
  • You can use Kiho’s blazon parser as a shortcut to constructing a complex search, but make sure you review and understand the search terms it suggests, as sometimes it is mistaken, or needs some additional refinement to produce an efficient search.
  • If you find some existing registrations that seem to conflict, or are questionable, or very close but probably clear, mention those in a comment.

 

The Last Super-Simple Field-Only Armory

Earlier this week, I became curious about the simplest armory designs that remained available for registration in the Society — was it still possible to find two- and four-part field-only armory that didn’t use furs, field treatments, or complex lines?

I spent some time looking at all of the current field-only armory: 219 devices and badges registered over the last forty-eight years. A visual sense of the diversity of these registrations is provided by Vémundr Syvursson’s Field-Only Emblazons project from last year, in which he drew out all 202 of these that had been registered at that time.

It quickly became clear that in order to find any design spaces that remained open, I would need to take advantage of the fact that I had parsed all of the existing records from the Society’s Ordinary and Armorial into a relational database, which allowed me to run queries that would filter and group registrations to produce a summary of which combinations of lines and tinctures had been used in the past.

The results of that analysis suggested some corners of the design space that might be promising, but I still needed to individually conflict-check the combinations I came up with. In response to a question on the Facebook Heraldry Chat group, Marie de Blois pointed out an approach to checking field-only armory I had overlooked, which allowed me to work through a bunch of options in a timely fashion.

In short, to filter the O&A for possible conflicts with field-only two-part or four-part armory such as “Per fess argent and sable,” you can run a complex search with these parameters:

  • PFESS:argent
  • PFESS:~and sable
  • PFESS:sable:~and argent
  • PFESS:pl
  • FO — give this line a weight of 2
  • PO

Any results that appear with a score of 4 or higher are a potential conflict.

I wasn’t sure what I would find at the end of this process — were all of the super-simple options taken, or closed off due to conflicts with more complicated designs — or would I find that there were dozens of options sitting vacant?

The truth turned out to be somewhere between these two extremes: about a dozen opportunities to register field-only designs using the most common two- and four-part divisions with plain lines and solid tinctures.

I wasn’t entirely sure I should publicize the results of my search — should I leave these hidden in obscurity for people to find one at a time over the coming decades? Was publishing a list of them like giving poachers a map to the nesting sites of the last surviving members of a species teetering on the bring of extinction?

In the end, I decided that there was no real harm done by revealing this information, and thus I give you:

  • Per bend vert and purpure.
  • Per bend sinister gules and azure.
  • Per bend sinister purpure and gules.
  • Quarterly purpure and Or — I believe this does not conflict with the existing registration of “Quarterly arrondi sable and Or” thanks to the 2003 precedent (for “Brǫndólfr the Stout”) which grants a DC for arrondi lines in four-part field divisions.
  • Quarterly vert and purpure — or you can replace vert with azure or sable.
  • Per saltire gules and argent.
  • Per saltire vert and argent — I believe this does not conflict with the existing registration of “Per saltire arrondi vert and argent” thanks to the same precedent cited above and the existing registration’s blanket permission to conflict with one DC.

There was room in the per-pale family for one additional registration, or two if they gave each other permission to conflict; the colors involved work well for my wife and I, and so I have filled out the submission forms, and I think that closes out the last per-pale options.

I didn’t find any such opportunities available for the per-fess or per-chevron divisions.

In addition to those narrowly-constrained options, it turned out there was a wider latitude among the less-common per-chevron-inverted fields, where there is room to register a handful more devices. Some possible combinations include:

  • Per chevron inverted argent and purpure.
  • Per chevron inverted Or and gules.
  • Per chevron inverted sable and azure.
  • Per chevron inverted purpure and vert.

In addition to the tincture combinations listed above, there are several other ways you could mix-and match the options for per-chevron-inverted fields; for example, “sable and argent” is still available, as is “Or and vert” — however, “argent and vert” has a conflict. While the number of possible combinations is large, since each item that is registered creates a conflict for a dozen others, there’s only room for about five actual submissions.

In addition to the items listed above, there may be a few more options available thanks to blanket permission-to-conflict waivers on file, or by asking individual submitters for such permission.

And of course, it’s possible that I’ve overlooked something in my search, and there are other unregistered opportunities out there, waiting for some enterprising person to come along and find them: if you decide to go looking, I wish you good hunting!

Available as a PDF file or as a high-resolution PNG.

Family Animal Badges

We’ve recently registered a badge for each member of our family incorporating a distinctive animal and color.


(Fieldless) A bear passant gules.

The red bear is the charge from my arms, and a cant on my society name.

Accepted on the June 2018 LoAR with a comment of “Nice badge!”


(Fieldless) A pig passant purpure.

Alienor’s beast reflects her nickname and the color from her arms.

Accepted on the June 2018 LoAR.


(Fieldless) A rhinoceros sable.

Alaxandair’s beast reflects his intimidating size and ferocity.

(Thanks to Thory Vedardottir for their help with the rhino art.)

Accepted on the January 2019 LoAR with a comment of “Nice badge!”

An Armory Conflict-Checking Checklist

SENA devotes over 10,000 words to conflict checking armory, which the below guide attempts to summarize.

It includes references to the relevant sections of SENA so you can track down more details if needed.


To conflict-check a new piece of armory, search the armorial database to find a list of all existing registrations which could possibly conflict, then review the new item against each of them in turn.

Work through the list below until you find that they are clear of conflict through at least one Substantial Change (SC) or two Distinct Changes (DCs). 

If you reach the end of the list without finding an SC or two DCs, the items conflict and the new one can not be registered without permission to conflict. (A5H)

First, identify the charge groups in each piece of armory. (A3D)

If one piece of armory has a primary charge and the other doesn’t, that’s an SC. (A5E1)

If there is a primary charge group, any of the following changes to it is an SC:

  • Type of all charges are substantially different? (A5E2)
  • Number of charges is substantially different (1, 2, 3, more than 3)? (A5E3)
  • Arrangement of charges is substantially different? (A5E4)
  • Posture or orientation of charges is substantially different? (A5E5)

If there is no primary charge group, any of the following changes to the field is an SC:

  • One field is divided and the other is undivided? (A5F1a)
  • Direction of lines of division has changed? (Number of lines doesn’t count.) (A5F1b)
  • No tinctures in common? Or for divisions into two, three, or four pieces, each section has changed and each item has at least one tincture the other does not? (A5F2)

For the field, each of the following is a DC — however, if there is a primary charge group, you can only get one DC for the field regardless of how many changes there are:

  • Is either item (or both) fieldless? (A5G1e)
  • Tincture changed for at least half of the field? (But if divided into more than four parts, swapping or rotating tinctures does not grant a DC.) (A5G1a)
  • Direction of line of division has changed? (A5G1b)
  • Style of partition line has changed? (A5G1c)
  • Number of pieces is different (1, 2, 3, 4, more than 4)? (A5G1d)

For each of the charge groups, each of the following is a DC:

  • Entire charge group has been added or removed? (A5G2)
  • Type of charge changed for at least half of the group? (A5G4)
  • Tincture changed for at least half of the group? (A5G3a)
  • Addition of division line, or change in direction, style, or number of pieces (1, 2, 3, 4, more than 4)? (A5G3b, A5G3c, A5G3d)
  • Number of charges is different (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, more than 5)? (A5G5)
  • Arrangement of charges in the group is different (and it wasn’t forced by contrast rules)? (A5G6)
  • Posture or orientation of the charges is different? (A5G7)

This checklist is also available as a PDF file or as a high-resolution PNG.

See also: A more-detailed guide that includes visual examples of each of these types of checks is found in Master Modar’s 2015 conflict-checking guide on Calontir’s heraldry site.

Complex Lines Quick Reference

I keep forgetting which complex lines are considered to conflict with each other, so I put together this quick-reference guide in hopes that a visual presentation would help it to sink in.


The edges of field divisions and ordinaries may use any of these complex line styles, with a few exceptions.

Plain lines predominate, but the other styles whose names are underlined are also fairly common in period.

Groups of lines separated by a dotted border are considered to be sufficiently different to have a DC.

Available as a PDF file or as a high-resolution PNG.

Name for Sydoc nicTalmach

Sydoc had a registrable name already picked out, so all that was required was some research to document it as historically accurate.


Sydoc nicTalmach is a Scots feminine name of the sixteenth century.

Sydoc is a feminine Scots given name dated to 1540 found in “A List of Feminine Personal Names in Scottish Records” by Talan Gwynek.

This name was originally found in Black’s Surnames of Scotland, s.n. MacKail.

SENA Appendix C says that English, Scots, and Gaelic name phrases can be combined.

nic is a marker (also spelled nyk/nick/nikc/nik) that appears in 16th century Scots records as a contraction of Gaelic ‘inghean mhic’, meaning ‘daughter of the son of’. Unlike in later Irish Gaelic orthography, no space appears after the marker in Scots.

This is shown in the 1595 records for “Katherene NicClaartie” and “Ewphrick Nikccoll” which appear in “Names from Papers Relating to the Murder of the Laird of Calder” by Margaret Makafee.

These names were originally found in Highland Papers (Scottish History Society, 1914).

Talmach is a Gaelic male given name (sometimes spelled Tolmach). Saint Talmach is a minor saint who was a disciple of Saint Brendan in sixth century Ireland. The name is found in The Book of Hymns of the Ancient Church of Ireland by James Henthorn Todd, 1855.