Excerpts from the book
HERALDRY OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by
Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.
Internet version edited by Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.
Canting arms are arms in which the charge or charges illustrate the holder's name or, by a stretch of the imagination, his way of life or even his address. As stated on p. 8 there are a tremendous number of canting arms, certainly far more than we realise, because many of them may be a play upon the meaning or pronunciation of a name no longer used or long since forgotten.
Canting arms have been popular from the very beginnings of heraldry, among all classes of the community, from the castle in the arms of the King of Castile (see Fig. 271) to the arms of craftsmen and farmers. From the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries we even have examples of noble families rejecting their old, non-canting arms in favour of new, canting ones. One example is that of the German counts, later princes, von Henneberg. They exchanged a wall and an eagle for a hen (German: Henne). The Danish-Swedish noble family of Trolle originally bore a coat of arms tierced, but changed over to a troll (a supernatural giant or dwarf).
On the next page are examples of German and English canting arms, and the rest of the book contains many others: from Germany, Bach (a beck) (Fig. 557) and Dürer (a door, German: Tür) (Fig. 562); from Austria, Rothschild (Fig. 580); from Switzerland, Uri (aurochs) (Fig. 597); from Italy, Turin (a bull, Latin: taurus) ("Fig. 708); from Norway, Bull (Fig. 751); from Sweden, Goos (a goose) (Fig. 780); and from Finland, Horn (Fig. 786). But canting arms are not always so easy to decipher. They may be based on a dialect, or even on a foreign language. There is the example of the Danish vicar, Lauritz Petersen, who in the seventeenth century latinised his name to Petraeus and, as this was related to the Greek word petra, meaning a rock, he went one step further and translated it into Syrian (Thura). Since there is a Latin word of a similar sound which means incense the Thura family included a censer in their coat of arms. This is an example of a punning charge. But the surname could also be chosen to refer to the charge, and this often explains the meaning of the bearings. The Danish nobility were in 1526 compelled to adopt permanent surnames and quite a number of families took their name from their escutcheons, like the families of Rosenkrantz (the wreath of roses surmounting the helmet, see Fig. 729) and Gyldenstjerne (a gold star).
There are also many non-aristocratic families whose arms originated in the name of the family house and where the charge eventually became the family name.
There were also instances where the charge and the name were created simultaneously, such as Tordcnskjold (meaning literally 'thunder shield') and his thunderbolt, see Fig. 743.
743. The arms which Peter Wessel, the Danish naval hero, was granted when he was raised to the nobility in 1716 and given the name of Tordenskjold (thunderbolt). The first quarter illustrates the bearer's new name. The eagle in the second quarter signifies the battle in the previous year in which the Swedish frigate Hvita oern (white eagle) was taken. The cannon and three cannon balls in the third quarter symbolise the Danish signal of recognition which was three gunshots. The lion in the fourth quarter alludes both to the three lions in the coat of arms of Denmark and to the single lion in that of Norway.