Are Cants Puns or a Rebus ??

Cants by any other name are still puns. Basically they’re all the same thing ~ a play on words that alludes to the owner’s name on a coat-of-arms, a deed performed, a location, the family motto, or a charge (symbol) within a coat of arms.

The meaning may be direct, so as to inform illiterates of the meaning. The meaning may also be deliberately concealed, revealed only those ‘in the know’. Meanings were also hidden to puzzle and amuse the viewer.

A pun is a humorous play on words. A cant is a heraldic word for a pun.

A rebus is a puzzle where you decode a message consisting of pictures that represent syllables and words. In Latin rebus means word puzzle. An example is H + the picture of an ear, which when put together becomes hear or here.

Sometimes musical notes on a scale were used, with the notes spelling out the puzzle.

The Salmon was a very popular fish in the rivers of Scotland and in heraldry. Cants played the name or location, as the symbol for towns such as Kingston-on-Thames, Peebles on the Tweed, Lanark on the Clyde, and Glasgow.

Here’s some found while researching heraldry ~

  • Acorn ~ see Oak

  • Alsager, Askers ~ see Water Lizard

  • Apple

    Image courtesy FCIT

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Arm ~ Armstrong, Arm and Hammer Baking Soda

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Ash ~ Ashcroft

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Asp ~ Aspendall [three asps, very like serpents and snakes, but larger]

  • Ass ~ Ashton

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry WS

  • Bat ~ Batiscombe, Bascom

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Bear ~ Beer

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Bee ~ Beeston

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

    Christopher Beeston (c. 1570 to 1638), as an actor performed in plays written by Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare. His most worthy contributions were as a theatrical impresario and owner of The Phoenix. Originally called The Cockfight, Beeston revamped a cockfight ring. This became the first theatre on Drury Lane. His troupe was originally called ‘The Queens Men’. After Queen Anne died in 1619, he renamed his troupe ‘Beeston’s Boys’.

    The community of Beeston, in Nottinghamshire, England, has black and yellow litter containers, with a bee symbol on each.The Beeston arms display six bees.

  • Bubble ~ Bubbleward

    Image courtesy James Parker

    The South Sea Bubble, or first great stock-market crash in 1720 may contributed to the bubble as a symbol of heraldry.

  • Burn , Brand ~ brand means to burn, thus cooking pot

    Image courtesy Heraldry SA

  • Camel ~ Calmels, Calmels d’ Artensac, Calmels d’ Lestiez, Camel, Georges Camle, Cammel, orCamelford, as a camel passing through a ford

  • Castle


    Image courtesy James Parker


    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Cattle

    Bull ~ Turnbull of Scotland, Bulleine (the Anne Boleyn family), Trumbull, Bullock

    Calf ~ Sir Hugh de Calvelegh

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Chickens

    Capon ~ Kapenhurst

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

    Hen ~ Henshaugh

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

    Cock ~ Cockayne, Alcock

    Image courtesy James Parker

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Hazel Nut ~ Haselau

    Haselau Wappen and hazel nut image courtesy Wikipedia

  • Dolphin ~ Used as a pun for names, such as Fish, Fisher, Fyshar.

  • Eagle ~ signifies a man of action, speedy in apprehension, alertness, quick-witted, strength, bravery, ever more occupied in high and weighty affairs, of lofty or noble spirit, ingenious, judicious in matters of ambiguity, "True magnanimity and strength of mind". One example is Eglesfield, the Founder of Queen’s College in 1340.

  • Ear ~ the family name Audice, which derives from the same base word as audio, or the ear, has a coat of arms that features 3 hind’s ears

  • Feathers and Gunstone ~ Fetherston’s ostrich feathers and gun-stone

  • Fox, also known as Tod, Todd, Edward Fox of Hereford, c. 1535

  • Fig ~ somewhere there is a family with the last name of Figon. They are in France, with the adaptation, Figone, in California.

    Image courtesy New Gaso

  • Grain ~ the name Graundorge derives from grain d’orge or barley. Among the cants, the Graundorge family added wheat in their arms.

  • Hank of Cotton ~ Cotton

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Herring ~ did the Herrings at one time fish for herring?

    Image courtesy James Parker

  • Holly ~ Hollinworth

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Hunting Horn ~ the Hunter family displays 3 hunting horns

    Image courtesy Wikipedia

  • Lamb ~ Evans is Welsh for John. So a Holy Lamb alludes to John the Baptist, hence the Pascal Lamb is on their arms.

    Pascal and Paschal families ~ the Paschal or Holy Lamb

    Image courtesy James Parker

  • Lucy, de Lucy

    Image courtesy Charles Boutell

  • Manatee ~ Manati, Puerto Rico

    Manati arms and manatee image courtesy Wikipedia

  • Moline Cross ~ Molineux

  • Moor ~ More

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Oak ~ most popular among the cants and charges of heraldry

    Acorn ~ Severoke, Lord Mayor of London in 1418 had 7 acorns laid out 2-3-2

    Oak Sprouting ~ the Littlewood family displays a sprouting oak sapling in their coat of arms.

    Image courtesy Armorial Register

  • Olive ~ Oliveira

    Oliveira arms image courtesy New Gaso

  • Orange, Oranger ~ Orange Province of France

    Oranger Province arms image courtesy Wikipedia

  • Ox ~ Oxford

    Image courtesy Weebsite

  • Pine ~ MacAlpine

    Image courtesy Heraldry WS

  • Raven ~ Carbeaux Noir Corbet, Corbeht, Corbett, Corbyn, Crowmer, Dawson and one of their cants

    Image courtesy James Parker

    Croft ~ a small piece of enclosed land, or small field, used for tillage or pasture, often rented for generations

    Ravenscroft arms image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Rooks ~ Rokeby, Rokes

  • Shell ~ Shelley

    Image courtesy FCIT

  • Spear ~ Nicholas Breakspeare, better known as Pope Adrian IV, bore a broken spear on his arms


    Image courtesy Charles Boutell

  • Stafford Knot ~ the Henry Stafford pennant. Which came first, the charge on Stafford’s heraldry or a knot named Stafford, used by Henry Stafford?

    Image courtesy Charles Boutell

  • Staple ~ Stapleton

    Image courtesy Charles Boutell

  • Swallow ~ Hirondelles, Arundel

    Swallow image courtesy Somewhere in Tyme

  • Sea Swallow ~ Swale

    Image courtesy Civic Heraldry SA

  • Talbot ~ the talbot was a dog of quick and eager pursuit, in heraldry symbolizing courage, vigilance and loyal fidelity. John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury was an important military commander in England’s 100 Year War. Near the end of his life, the king referred to him as ‘Talbott, our good dogge’, alluding to his family crest and his characteristics.

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Trivet ~ Tryvette

    Image courtesy James Parker

  • Trout, Trowt ~ Troutbeck and Trowtbeck must have lived by a trout stream, called a beck in Scotland

    Image courtesy James Parker

  • Trumpet ~ to trump the Trumpingtons

    Image courtesy Charles Boutell

  • Water Lizard ~ Alsager, Askers

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry

  • Willow ~ Salis, Salix, Salford, Sallow, Osier, Wand for the branches, and Willis all use willow cants.

    Willis, Dean of Worcester in 1596 displays 3 willow trees, while the Count de Salis displays a salix

    Salford badge courtesy Civic Heraldry SA

  • Wren ~ Wren, Wrenbury, Wrenne

    Image courtesy Cheshire Heraldry SA

One more that needs a page of it’s own to adequately explain the pun is that of Brigetteneau and the tale of the Heraldic Red Tongue.

Leave Cants, Puns, and Rebuses and return to Heraldry

Leave Cants, Puns and Rebuses and
Return to Scottish Wedding Dreams Home Page