There is a tradition in heraldry of so-called “canting arms” or armes parlantes where the design of the coat of arms literally depicts the meaning of the name of the armiger and, so, ‘says” his name. One that I came across recently which illustrates this well is the coat of arms of Cardinal Vegliò who was created cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. The main charge on the shield is a crane standing with one foot off the ground and holding a stone. This is usually referred to as a crane “in its vigilance”. This comes from Pliny the Elder wrote that cranes would appoint one of their number to stand guard while they slept. The sentry would hold a stone in its claw, so that if it fell asleep it would drop the stone and waken. The cardinal’s name means “watchful”.
This photo illustrates something well. The banners at the top of the photo contain the coats-of-arms of the individuals who bear them. In the middle part of the photo there are those sort of dorky looking statues standing on top of the helmets. THOSE are crests. (They are placed at the crest of the helmet…get it?) The two terms are NOT synonymous. Many people use the word crest to mean a coat-of-arms. I know, those extra two syllables are a killer to have to say! A crest is a part of the full achievement of arms but it may be depicted alone. However a coat-of-arms and a crest are different things.
Several people have asked me to illustrate further just what the practice of combining two coats of arms together on one shield via the antiquated method of dimidiation looks like. This form of marshaling was used extensively in the Middle Ages but fell out in favor of impaling. With dimidiation, as the name implies each of the two coats of arms is split down the middle and only one half of each is depicted in the two halves of one shield. An excellent example of this are the arms of Dolní Lomná, a village in the Czech republic. The arms depict an eagle on one half and a tree on the other. Dimidiation obscures part of each of the coats of arms and also sometimes creates somewhat unusual looking creatures like this demi-eagle/demi-tree or even more amusingly the famous arms of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports who seems to bear lions that are also half boat!