Why three hedgehogs?

I don’t mind if you wonder about my choice of hedgehogs as a title for a genealogy and family history blog.  I know they are cute and very popular–who can resist their little faces and their spiky outsides?  They don’t look fierce, like they are going to bite you.  Furthermore, they can run quickly and roll up into little balls when chased.

When I discovered there are three hedgehogs on the Harris family shield, I was  puzzled.  Where are the lions, tigers, bears or horses?  Bulldogs maybe, or wolves–but hedgehogs?  Relatives of the shrew and the mole? What is grand and mighty about them?   After googling the word hedgehogs,  I found out rather quickly.

In ancient Greece, the poet Archilochus established what has become  known as “The Hedgehog Concept.”  That is, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  Lyn T. Christian writes an excellent description of the theory.  She bases her summary on Isaiah Berlin’s application of this idea to writers and thinkers, in his 1957 essay, “The Fox and The Hedgehog.”  This essay was later extended to successful businesses in Jim Collins’s best-selling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, HarperBusiness, 2001.

“The essence of the hedgehog concept lies in the two animal’s unique qualities. While a fox is very cunning, fast, sleek and crafty, the hedgehog is a waddling, frumpy looking compact armadillo/porcupine mix. The fox, as Berlin writes, knows many various useful strategies. The fox can wait for perfect moments to pounce on its prey. It can devise complex plans of attack and maneuvering. The hedgehog knows only one big thing. It knows how to stop, drop, and roll up into a tiny impenetrable ball of spikes. Anytime a hedgehog senses danger it does this one big thing impeccably well. The hedgehog in the long-run triumphs over the foxes of the world.” (Lyn T. Christian, 2003, soulsalt.com)

You can apply the hedgehog concept to your life.  Described as “Simplicity Within the Three Circles,” here are the three questions to ask yourself.   They are from  chapter five of Collins’s book.  Use these to  find your “inner hedgehogs.”

1) Determine what you can be best in the world at and what you cannot be best in the world at;
2) Determine what drives your economic engine;
3) Determine what you are deeply passionate about.

I plan to do this and write the results in a later blog entry.

Hundreds of years ago, when the Harris ancestors developed this shield, the hedgehog fable must have been passed around in tales told around the Great Room fire.  I like the idea that my ancient ancestors respected the simple strengths of this prickly creature.  Hedgehogs are more than cute!  They are small, but mighty in their unique way.

6 thoughts on “Why three hedgehogs?

  1. Mary, This WAS fascinating! I’ll be pondering the three questions today-I think I know the answers to one and three-but I will have to really think about the second one.

    Thanks for sharing this bit of family history-I think the hedgehog makes the perfect symbol for a family crest. Great story!

  2. I love it. Sometimes I feel like a hedgehog. When things get rough I roll up into a ball and ride it out. Especially relates to work right now. Glad to be a Harris.

  3. I came across your page while looking for heraldry photos associated with my “Harris” surname. I liked the analogies and history you provided. From what I’ve read, it seems that the noble qualities you describe for the hedgehog could very well have played an important role in symbolizing wisdom and determination. But, the old name for hedgehogs was “herries”. If you listen, it sounds like Harris. I also think this was used as a sort of pun on the name.

    In any case, I’ve grown quite fond of the more popular version of this Coat of Arms, depicting the three golden “herries” on the blue field with an ermine chevron. I’ve seen other depictions of Coats attributed to the Harris name that didn’t include the same colors or hedgehogs… but they all seem to encompass “three” of something. Three crescents… three annulets… three objects of some sort. Maybe this is a common trend among the family.

    I would like to determine if one of my direct ancestors was awarded one of these various Coats. It would be a very proud and noble discovery. So far, I’ve only been able to trace back my family history to around 1756 in the U.S. Prior to that, I would assume my line to be in England. So, I’m close….well….close-er.

    Great page! Best Wishes…

    Jason Harris

    • Thanks for your interesting comment to my blog post, Jason. It was informative! If my research is right, my line came sooner than yours, but I have to get more reliable proof. Nevertheless, they have been here for a long time. Unfortunately, there are no male heirs, so our “Harris” named line ended with my father and his brother. Good luck with your continuing research!

      Mary Harris Oliver

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