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The crest and motto are recorded in Nisbet’s 1722 System of Heraldry. Where some Scottish crests are meant to inspire awe, fear, virtue or resolve, here we have some top-level heraldic punning. Here we have a crane (or stork) ‘dormant’ (ie resting) holding a stone. The legend with cranes was that they might be attacked while they slept, so one of their number would have to stay away to watch out. In order to stay awake they would hold a stone in their claw, which if they fell asleep would drop into the water and wake them up. So we know the crane here is not quite asleep yet. A resting crane is very unusual in heraldry - usually they're shown awake to reinforce the idea of 'vigilance', but the Cranstoun Crane is quite a peaceful wee beastie.
So what has this to do with the Cranstouns? The surname comes from the placename of Midlothian. That means the place frequented by Cranes. But here’s where the heraldic joke comes in. The crest is a CRANE holding a STOUN. CRANSTOUN. Top banter chaps.
An alternative theory of the name Cranstoun would be the toun belonging to a man called Cren, an Old English name, but Crane is just as possible. Either way, heraldic artists could rarely resist a good pun (‘canting’ being the technical term).
The rather stern motto ‘thou shalt want ere I want’ has come in for some ridicule, most notably by Samuel B. James in his ‘Morals of Mottoes’ of 1874. Sir Walter Scott described it as ‘an emphatic Border motto’. The exact context of this seems lost to history. Given the Crane was a symbol of purity and honesty, perhaps the meaning is you should want what the virtuous Crane desires, i.e. not much.
MKP 30 June 2023