It’s a good question. After all, as seen elsewhere, the process of registration can take months, and cost big bucks, and it’s not guaranteed to get you what you want. Why bother, when you can just paint up a banner and call yourself whatever you want and no one ever needs to know it’s not official?
The usual reason you hear is “you register so that no one else can get your name and device first, and force you to stop using it”. But we’re in Lochac, far from the rest of the known world, with a very small population; the chances of that happening are less than the chances of me winning Crown. Forget it. There are two real reasons: a petty one and a philosophical one.
The Petty Reason
There are heralds out there. They might see your banner, or hear your name, and be sufficiently interested that they’d go look them up. When they discover they’re not registered, a sufficiently narky, grumpy herald might exercise the full extent of his or her heraldic power and… politely ask you to register. Hardly sounds scary, eh? Except that you’re overestimating the heraldic capacity for politeness. You can get pretty irritated with some heralds’ idea of tact and diplomacy. You don’t want to go there. Better to just register and put that behind you.
The Philosophical Reason
We believe in honour. It’s one of the things we’re proud of, the way Australians are proud of being fair dinkum and the Welsh are proud of having a language with a lot of spitting in it. We identify ourselves as a Society built on an ideal. So how, exactly, does fraud fit into that, even a mild and esoteric kind of fraud? Remember, heraldry is property. People in period bore arms because they were given the right to do so. If you, in the SCA, claim that right without earning it, you’re committing fraud. You’re being dishonourable. Granted it’s a pretty small sin, but it’s still not exactly in line with the ideal.
Uberto puts it this way:
There is another reason why registration (or at least the process leading up to it) can be a good thing to do. The SCA is supposed to be about researching the middle ages; finding documentation for a name and looking at medieval heraldry may be the first (and, for some, last) taste of the kind of research that is required for the Society to maintain that authentic look and feel which enhances everything else that we do in it. If nothing else, by doing the research needed for registration most people learn something about the middle ages that they never knew — and that has to be a positive thing.
I’m not going to tell you that everyone who ever used a device or name without registering it is a dishonourable fiend. It’s not so. Some people tried and failed to get their stuff past the heralds, and never tried again, often because the mere mention of heralds still makes them twitch. Me, I’m OK with heralds but I feel that way about eggplant, so who am I to cast the first stone?
But registering a device is a worthwhile effort. It involves communication, historical research and creativity, meaning you touch on all three aspects of the Society for Creative Anachronism (if you assume Anachronism = history, which is a stretch, but there you go). It allows you to make something and call it your own. It exposes you to a complicated process with a thousand years of history behind it. These are all Good Things.
It's complicated, finicky and somewhat frustrating at times, but it's worth doing.
Author: Karl Faustus von Aachen (with suggestions and corrections from Uberto Renaldi). Last updated: 12 May 2009 (AS LXIV).