Canting arms

A common simple example of canting arms: the castle representing the Kingdom of Castile and the lion representing the Kingdom of León.[1]

Canting arms are heraldic bearings that represent the bearer's name (or, less often, some attribute or function) in a visual pun or rebus. The term cant came into the English language from Anglo-Norman cant, meaning song or singing, from Latin cantāre, and English cognates include canticle, chant, accent, incantation and recant.[2]

French heralds used the term Armes Parlantes ("Talking Arms"), as they would sound out the name of the armiger. Many armorial allusions require research for elucidation because of changes in language and dialect that have occurred over the past millennium.

Canting arms – some in the form of rebuses – are quite common in German civic heraldry. They have also been increasingly used in the 20th century among the British royal family. When the visual representation is not straightforward but as complex as a rebus, this is sometimes called a rebus coat of arms. An in-joke among Society for Creative Anachronism heralds is the pun, "Heralds don't pun; they cant."[3]

Examples of canting arms

Personal coat of arms

A famous example of canting arms are those of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Queen Consort of the United Kingdom 1936-52 and Queen Mother 1952-2002). Her arms (pictured below) contain in sinister (i.e. on the bearer's left, viewer's right) the bows and blue lions that make up the arms of the Bowes and Lyon families.

Municipal coat of arms

Municipal coats of arms which interpret the town's name in rebus form are also called canting. Here are a few examples.


  1. "Tinctures".
  2. "Cant". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. ISBN 0-395-82517-2.
  3. Neznanich, Modar. "Heraldry for Those Who Cant" (PDF). Retrieved 2 July 2012. Cites 72 historical examples of canting arms, as well as SCA usage.
  4. Englefield, Eric (1979). Flags. Ward Lock. p. 104.
  5. Room, Adrian (1988). Dictionary Of Place Names In The British Isles. Bloomsbury. p. 128.
  6. Weeks, Andrew. "Obdam (The Netherlands)". Flags of the World. CRW Flags. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  7. Schneider, Klaus-Michael. "Municipality of Manacor". Flags of the World. CRW Flags. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
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