The UK Flag: Why The UK Flag Is Called The Union Jack?

united kingdom flag

Why The UK Flag Is Called The Union Jack?

The British flag was simply referred to as The British Flag or The Flag of Britain in the 16th century before it adopted its present design and name, the Union Jack. Let’s first learn about the UK as a nation before discussing why the UK’s flag is known as the Union Jack. The UK is made up of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The nation would therefore need a flag that accurately depicts its four constituent nations. The St. George’s Red Cross of the Kingdom of England, the St. Andrew’s White Saltire of Scotland, and the St. Patrick’s Red Saltire of Ireland are combined into the current national flag of the nation. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how this happened.

James VI’s union of Scotland and England in 1606 is when the British flag first appeared. Around the year 1674, the British flag officially became known as the “Union Jack” when flown on a vessel and not in port. Around the same period, the British flag was referred to as the “UK Union flag” on land. As a result, the flag had two names depending on whether you were on land or in the sea. By the early nineteenth century, it had become standard to merely refer to it as the Union Jack by its nautical name. But from where did the name’s two parts originate? Let’s investigate it!

The UK Flag


If you imagine the original flags of Ireland, Scotland, and England one above the other, you’ll see the UK’s current flag vividly and clearly representing their unity. The name Union first appeared in print in 1625. There are several theories as to how it came to be known as the “Union Jack.” The Union part is fairly straightforward, but what about Jack? Here’s an idea!

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Before the 17th century, the term “Jack” was used to describe the maritime bowsprit flag, and when warships mounted the UK flag on the front, it was referred to as “the Jack.” When King George named the new UK Union Flag in 1801, the powerful Royal Navy referred to it as the Union Jack, and the name stuck.

Evolution Of The Jack

When mounted on a warship and not in port, the British flag became formally known as the ‘Union Jack’ around 1674. On land, the British flag was referred to as the ‘Union flag’ at the same time. By the early nineteenth century, this rule had been relaxed, and the sailing term could refer to the national flag anywhere. In 1801 the Union Jack was modified to include the St. Patrick’s Cross (Ireland). And if you’re wondering why the Welsh flag was never included in the Union Jack, it’s because Wales had already become a principality of England by 1801.

Flags In Whales

There are two flags flying in Wales: the red dragon on a green background and the yellow St Davids Cross.

What Do The Colours And Crosses On The Union Jack Represent?

The Union Jack is made up of three heraldic crosses: England’s Saint George’s Cross, Scotland’s Saint Andrew’s Cross, and Ireland’s Saint Patrick’s Cross. The layout of the flag has changed since the first Union Flag, as it was initially known, was created in 1606. The first Union Flag featured only England’s red cross of Saint George on a white background and Scotland’s white diagonal cross on a blue background. However, because it is forbidden to have red on a blue background, the red cross had to be bordered with white, according to Herald. Saint Patrick’s Cross, represented by the diagonal red cross on a white background, was not added to the flag until Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom in 1801.

When Is The Union Jack Flag Flown?

The Union Flag was initially recognised as a Royal Flag. When the current design was approved in 1801, it was ordered to be flown solely on the King’s forts and castles. On Royal Family birthdays, Commonwealth Day, Coronation Day, The Queen’s official birthday, Remembrance Day, and the days of the State Opening and Prorogation of Parliament, government buildings must fly the Union Jack flag.

Here are a few things you should be aware of and watch out for after learning about the Union Jack and its origins.

Union Jack Upside-Down

Be cautious when hanging the flag because doing so in an offensive manner is frowned upon! It might also be a distress sign, indicating that something is off. Therefore, always check that the white cross is positioned at the bottom of the red line in the top-left corner.

English Flag vs. British Flag

England is a province of Great Britain, and Great Britain is a province of the United Kingdom. England’s flag is known as the St. George’s Cross, while Great Britain’s official flag is known as the Union Flag or the Union Jack, as previously explained.


What is the difference between the Union Jack and the British flag?

The British flag was referred to as the “Union flag” around the same time. As a result, depending on whether you were on land or in the water, the flag was known by two different names. By the early nineteenth century, the rule was to certainly use the sailing term and call it the Union Jack.

Why is Wales not in the UK flag?

The Welsh dragon does not appear on the flag because Wales had already been united with England since the 13th century when the first Union Flag was created in 1606. This meant that Wales was a Principality rather than a Kingdom and thus could not be included.

What was the British flag before the Union Jack?

The flag of Great Britain, also known as King’s Colours, the first Union Flag, the Union Jack, or the British flag, was used at sea from 1606 and more broadly from 1707 to 1801. It was the first British flag. It is the forerunner to the Union Jack of 1801.

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