The Basque heritage is filled with families of noble origin, who, in the ancient times of shields and swords, earned their nobility by protecting their land, their king and their freedom from foreign invaders. The Coat of Arms served as a graphic representation of these heroic deeds, as well as their identity in battle. It is not surprising that many of us today are still fascinated with heraldry, and with the possibility of being descendants of such noble people.
Heraldry is just the description of coat of arms. Normally it’s accepted that you use the oldest known coat of arms with your surname, but there’s no guarantee that the original family or individual who bore the arms is your ancestor. Many people have the same surname without being related, and that is particularly true of the Basque since surnames were often pretty generic and referred to locations, such as “pasture”, “river”, “valley” etc. signifying where the person came from.
A coat of arms was granted to an individual, and often the symbols in it were a specific reference to some of that individual’s accomplishments or personal characteristics. There is no guarantee of any direct kinship or right to inherit certain arms.
So, even though technically there is no such thing as a “family coat of arms”, families can treasure and display an ancestor’s coat of arms if they wish to do so, and consider it a family symbol, just like an heirloom belonging to someone in the family.
Heraldry experts are divided on the issue of the legality of displaying the coat of arms. Some argue that unless you can demonstrate that you are an actual descendant of the person mentioned, you have no right to display the arms.
Others say that in modern times that law is overruled by the modern Spanish constitution, which allows freedom of expression. I agree with this interpretation, especially considering that the rules of right to display arms are self-imposed, and just a matter of personal opinion.
From the point of view of modern copyright law, there is no problem. It only applies to intellectual property (i.e.: artwork, literature, music, etc.) which is original or new and has been created after said copyright law went into effect, less than 50 years ago.
– Fernando Ybarra