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, it leaves out a lot of nuance, 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.
Lastly, don’t forget the ground rules:
- OSCAR commentary is preliminary and confidential, so it generally shouldn’t be discussed with submitters or revealed to the public.
- It’s important to be kind to the submitters and the other heralds, so avoid describing an armory proposal as ugly, or saying another commenter’s idea is stupid — we’re all on the same team, and cruel words, even if uttered in jest, can drive valued volunteers away from our hobby.
- Scans are included, or sources are on the no-photocopy list (see Admin Handbook Appendix H).
- If links were 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?
- 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).
- Personal name structure matches one listed for this language group (see SENA Appendix A) — or documentation is provided for the name construction.
- 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).
- Name is not extremely similar to a very famous person, either historical or modern.
- Name, in conjunction with any armory, does not suggest membership in a major ruling family, or suggest that they are supernatural.
- Name does not include any words which could be viewed as slurs, and is not overly suggestive of any terrible people or historical incidents.
- Should not be excessively modern to the point where it would break the medieval atmosphere.
- 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.
- 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.
- No ambiguity between primary and secondary charges (or else “sword and dagger”).
- No charge group contains more than two charge types (or else “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 else “quaternaries” or “excessive stacking”).
- Overall charges extend well beyond the underlying charges (or else “barely overall”) without obscuring the underlying charges so much that they are unidentifiable.
- 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, or are identifiable despite that shared tincture.
- Contrast here means they’re not both metals, and they’re not both colors. Items which are evenly divided between metals and colors are considered neutral and have contrast with both. Identification may be hampered if there are shared tinctures along the boundary where items meet.
- If you count all of the tinctures, and all of the charge types (ignoring field divisions), the total is not higher than eight.
- Terms are in standard order: field, primaries, non-peripheral secondaries, tertiaries on those charges, peripheral secondaries, tertiaries on peripherals, overall charges. (See Master Bruce’s “A Grammar of Blazonry”.)
- Charge are described with number, type, complex line, posture, arrangement, orientation, and tinctures, while 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).
- 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.
- If the field is divided per pale or quarterly, with plain lines, without any charge groups 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.
- 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.
- Should not be excessively modern to the point where it would break the medieval atmosphere.
- Look for designs which could possibly conflict, then go through and look for at least one Substantial Change (SC) or two Distinct Changes (DCs) as per the guidelines in SENA section A5 or as summarized in An Armory Conflict-Checking Checklist.
- 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. Otherwise, a quick post of “no conflicts found” lets others know that the item has been checked.
- It helps if you mention the ordinary sections or complex search terms you used so that others can review your work or learn from your approach.
[Updated June 22, 2020 to add a few links to the armory conflict-checking section.]
[Updated July 12, 2020 to add ground rules and a note about offensive names.]