Facts About The UK Flag You Probably Didn’t Know

by Tanya May 30, 2024

Can you think of a powerful symbol that’s instantly recognizable worldwide or weaves together stories of four nations?

That’s the UK flag – a tapestry that carries the whispers of saints, sovereigns, and even soldiers who fought and died under it.  

However, beyond its popularity, there are some fascinating facts and details that usually go unnoticed.

And that’s where this piece comes in: to offer you a unique perspective of one of the world’s greatest flags of the modern era. Let’s peel back the layers together.

FACT 1: The Union Jack is not the original title of the UK flag

When the term “Union Jack” or “Union Flag” is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the UK flag. This makes lots of sense, given that most have known this flag as the Union Jack or Union Flag for the longest time. 

But here’s the twist – these are not the flag’s official or real names.

In the 16th century, the flag was called the flag of Britain or the British flag and symbolized two countries—England and Scotland.

Around 1674, the British flag was named “Union Jack” when flown on warships in open waters. On land, the flag had a slightly different name—“Union Flag.” But this distinction faded away by the 18th century, and the government officially recognized both terms as interchangeable. 

FACT 2: The UK flag does not represent the entire United Kingdom

UK flag should unify four great nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you closely look at its clever design, you will notice the flag of England in the center is symbolized by the Red Cross of Saint George. It’s then blended with a beautiful blue background and white saltire of Saint Andrew’s from the flag of Scotland. Last, we have the flag of Northern Ireland represented by the cross of Saint Patrick (a diagonal red cross on a white background).

Image from Wikipedia.


Interestingly, Wales seems to have no representation on the UK flag; there are no heraldic elements of its flag like the red dragon or green and white horizontal strips.

The reason for this is that by the time the flag came to its current form, Wales happened to be united with England. 

FACT 3: Around 23 countries around the world use the British flag

The United Kingdom flag is used by 23 other nations worldwide.

Some countries, particularly former colonies of Britain, feature the symbolic red, white, and blue colors on their national flag and even coat of arms. One good example is New Zealand. 

The New Zealand flag proudly features the UK flag in the top-left corner against a royal blue backdrop, accompanied by four stars (Southern Cross). Despite attempts by the government to change the nation’s flag through two referendums, most individuals opposed the idea.  

Strictly speaking, the British flag symbolizes a legacy of colonialism. However, countries like Australia have featured it on their flag since 1901 (with slight modifications in 1908). 

Canada’s Red Ensign had the Union Jack until 1964, when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson created a committee to choose a new flag for the nation.

In 1965, Canada hoisted a new flag with Maple Leaf as the national symbol.  

Here’s a list of other countries using the UK flag on their flags: 

  • British Antarctic Territory
  • Cook Islands
  • Fiji
  • Cayman Islands
  • Bermuda
  • British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Cayman Islands
  • British Virgin Islands and more.

FACT 4: The Flag of Hawaii Contains the British Flag

After fighting the British for seven good years, America finally gained independence and founded its flag. So, imagine how surprising it is to see one of your member states fly a flag with a symbol related to your former colonialist. 

Well, that’s exactly the case with the 50th state of the United States, Hawaii. However, there’s a very reasonable explanation why Hawaii’s flag includes the UK flag. Way back in 1793, British captain George Vancouver presented a UK flag to the King of Hawaii, King Kamehameha I. 

The British didn’t colonize Hawaii; they only occupied it until 1843, when the monarch took over. During that time, their flag flew as the state’s sole flag until 1816, when the eight horizontal stripes with alternating white, blue, and red were added. 

The new hybrid flag was not only a symbol of friendship with Britain but also represented America’s interests. Even after taking the Island, the US maintained the flag. 

FACT 5: The most expensive UK flag was sold for £384,000

You’re probably wondering why a flag would sell for such a substantial amount of money.

This was not just any UK flag; it was a survivor from the Battle of Trafalgar.

The huge flag with bullet holes was sold for £384,000 in 2009. But before that, it flew proudly from the Jackstaff of HMS Spartiate during the 204-year historical war.

When the British defeated Napoleon’s army, the soldiers lowered the flag and gifted it to Lieutenant James Cephan for his significant contribution and performance. 

FACT 6: The UK has no flag code

The United Kingdom has customs, guidelines, and etiquette for flying their flag. However, unlike countries like the US, the UK government hasn’t set up a modern concept of flag desecration or proper code of conduct when dealing with the flag. That explains why people often reproduce it in its original form of clothing, merchandise, and memorabilia without legal repercussions. 

In conclusion,

the UK flag is a powerful visual representation of a long and splendid story shared by United Kingdom representatives all over the world. So, the next time you see this iconic flag, remember the lasting legacy that brought it to be. 

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The first Millennial blogger in the UK. Twitter @_luckyattitude

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