Crests of modern cities in Germany.
Top row, left to right: Stuttgart, Nurnberg, Tubingen.
Middle row: Atzelgift, Honigsee, Nachtsheim.
Bottom row: Falkenfels, Trechtingshausen, Flogeln.
The production designers for George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones TV series have done a smashup job creating a fantasy world like Medieval Europe (in spite of those ice-zombies and dragons) and that includes crests for the feuding noble families of Westeros… from a Kraken for House Stark, to the more conventional lion for House Lannister, the most villainous characters of the show. Real-world crests, however, out-do them in terms of sheer weirdness, as the above illustration shows.
The use of coats of arms and crests, in the European sense, grew out of medieval warfare. (Japanese nobles had their own crests and system for designing them.) Men in the units needed a way to identify their own side in the thick of battle and lacking cell phones and radios, came up with simple, brightly colored patterns that could be discerned across far distances. The designs were often worn in the form of a surcoat, a loose tunic worn over their armor. In times of peace, the crests identified individual knights in jousts and other festivities. Family crests grew from these simple origins to include symbols relating to heroic deeds, fiefs, origins, sources of income, and marriages and other alliances. Over time municipalities, guilds, and schools adopted crests as well. A whole language grew around the need to describe and design coats of arms; The History Learning Site of the UK as well as Historic UK gives helpful information about these more technical aspects. And if you want to make your own, this site is easy to use.
Coats of Arms, Crests, and Sigils
A golden scythe between two green, striking snakes
Closed book with yellow covers on an azure background
Roaring, rampant lion on a field of green
Knight in black armor holding a war hammer and a round shield
An upside down arrow in a ring of ten stars
A staff above a sheaf of wheat
Pelican holding a red banner against a calm ocean
Two krakens separated by a yellow vertical stripe
A white lily surrounded by six eight-pointed stars
A sleeping lion beneath an azure ewer pouring water
Two yoked and standing oxen, each facing a dancing satyr
Red rhinoceros in battle with a wild boar
Vintner seated on a wagon within a ring made of bunches of grapes
Five unlit candles above a beetle wearing a crown
A gorgon seated on a stool within a circle of trillium flowers
Seven interlocked spirals in different colors
Six crescent moons on a blue background
Golden cockatrice standing on a seashell against a field of brown
Sea-lion holding a ship’s wheel between its front claws
Purple merchant ship in silhouette, against a sky blue background
Maiden riding a bull and holding an upraised sword
A swimming eel on a background of white and purple stripes
Swan with stag’s horns
Gray fox seated in frontal view between two burning birch trees
A sleeping rabbit with four suckling young beneath a gold chalice