This is a common misconception by folks that do not live in countries that still have Heraldic Law.
The thing most Americans refer to as "the family crest" is actually a coat of arms. Coats of arms are issued or awarded to individuals who distinguish themselves by acts or by "right of birth." They are not issued to families at large.
A "crest" is the design that is actually above the shield that a coat of arms is displayed upon.
A cap badge, or clansman's badge displays the Crest of the Chief within a circlet or buckle. Only an armorigious person may wear their crest without the circlet or buckle. [and perhaps their *immediate* family -- wife, son, daughter.]
Rt. Honorable Robin Blair is the current Lord Lyon, King of Arms, who is the Chief Herald for Scotland and presides over
the Lyon Court.
Misuse of Arms by Brittish subjects can be prosecuted.
Americans decorating their homes with armoral bearings
are not subject to prosecution. However, use of the arms
in the armorigous country, by other than the owner is the
same as declaring yourself to be that person. To make an
analogy ---- simply admiring a personalized license plate
and deciding to take it and put it on your car, just because
you like it would be a similar offense. We would *never*
consider doing that!
However, as America does not follow Heraldic Law, most people do have such decorations in their home, due to the
pride they have in the heritage of their Family's country of
To learn more -- read about "Heraldry" at your public library,
or join the various Heraldry lists and boards at Rootsweb.com
Lauren M. Boyd, FSA Scot
Scottish Information Society