NationStates Jolt Archive

How Many Flags?

St Edmundan Antarctic
11-09-2007, 13:37
Inspired by the existing thread about custom flags (, as well as by having read a book on the subject recently, I’ve decided to ask
“How many different flags does your nation have?”

I’m not talking about ‘local’ flags (for provinces states & territories, counties, cities, and so on…) or ‘private’ flags (for businesses, universities, clubs, families or even specific individuals, and so on…) here, by the way, what I mean is flags that are seen as belonging to the nation as a whole or that are used specifically by at least some part of the national government & its agencies…
The only flag that any NS nation actually has to have is its “national” one, of course, but in RL it’s quite common for countries to have a range of differing flags for use in differing situations — even excluding the ones that are often used for identifying individual military units &/or formations — so doesn’t it seem very reasonable that at least some countries in NS would do likewise?

Some basic notes about terminology
The end of a flag that attaches to the post, staff, rope or other object from which it is flown is called the ‘hoist’; the other, unattached end of a flag is called the ‘fly’; and if a flag has the hoist and fly the right way round then its upper and lower edges are called its ‘head and ‘foot’ respectively. If a square or rectangular area in the upper section of the ‘hoist’ forms a distinct section of the overall design — as in the USA’s “Stars and Stripes”, for example — then this is called a ‘canton’.
The distance between the opposite ends of the hoist and the fly is the flag’s ‘length’, whilst the distance measured at right angles to this is called either its ‘width’ or — especially in Britain, & countries strongly influenced by the British — its ‘breadth’. A flag’s proportions are normally given as the ration of breadth to length, for example “2:3” which is quite a common ration in flags that were intended primarily for use on land.
If a design is said to be ‘swallow-tailed’ then the far end of the fly has a triangular gap extending inwards between the ends of its upper & lower edges, whereas one that is ‘triple swallow-tailed’ has an additional triangle of material extending outwards along the midline there so that three tails are separated by two triangular gaps.
A flag whose design can be modified in various ways to give rise to a whole set of alternative flags for differing uses, as the [RL] British ‘Blue Ensign’ is, may be called the “core flag” of that group.
The basic background in a flag’s design, whether this is in a single colour or divided into sections of two or more colours is called the “field”. Any items placed on the field may be called “charges”, and it may be described as “charged with” them. If an existing design has some extra element [such as a badge] added to it too then it may be described as “defaced with” that detail. A relatively small shield that’s placed on a flag, or on a larger shield] is called an ‘escutcheon’. A diagonal [X-shaped] cross is technically called a ‘saltire’. A cross or other simple design-element of one colour that has a border in a different (except where it touches the outer edges of the flag) colour can be described as ‘fimbriated’ in the latter hue.

_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _ ¬_ _ _

To start with, “national” flags themselves can have two different functions… On the one hand they can be used for official purposes (e.g. to indicate the presence of government offices, national officials, and perhaps also national military units), and on the other hand they can be displayed by non-governmental individuals and groups as a sign of loyalty to the nation as a whole… although of course there may well be nations where relatively few people actually feel willing to do this voluntarily. Some nations may say that the same design should be used in both cases, but others may (as about 12% of the nations existing on RL Earth today do) define two different designs instead and may apply the label “national flag” to only one of these. Flags specified as being for official use only are often referred to as either ‘government flags’ or ‘state flags’, whilst those specified as being only for “popular” use instead may be called ‘civil flags’.
It is also possible, of course, that the ‘national flag’ will be reserved for official use without there being any generally-recognised ‘civil flag’ at all: This was technically the case with Britain’s “Union Flag”, originally, although its use by the general population — either instead of or alongside the specifically English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish “national” flags — is also accepted (on land, but not at sea) nowadays although people are still technically supposed to obtain official permission before flying it!
In those RL nations that have distinct ‘government flags’ these typically consist of the ‘civil flag’ with a special symbol (commonly part or all of a “coat of arms” that belongs either to the nation itself or to its monarch) added either at its centre or in the upper hoist ‘Government flags’ may also differ in shape from the relevant ‘civil flags’: Those from RL nations in Scandinavia and around the Baltic Sea are commonly swallow-tailed or triple swallow-tailed, for example, and although the American national flag has a single design that’s used in both roles it’s only the copies of this that are meant for ‘government’ use that are standardised at the “official” ratio of 10:19 for width-to-length whilst those sold for public use tend to have ratios such as 2:3, 3:5, or 5:8, instead…
Flags for ‘government’ use are probably more likely than the corresponding ‘civil flags’ to have metallic fringes or other decorative accessories added, even if they would otherwise have identical designs to these, as well.

Some nations have special ‘war flags’ or ‘battle flags’ that have historically been taken into action by their armies, in addition to any flags that individual units and/or formations within those forces might have been granted. These might differ from the main ‘national’ flags in same ways that ‘government’ flags typically differ from ‘civil’ ones, even if those nations don’t actually have any ‘government’ flags for non-military use too, or be slightly simplified versions of either ‘national’ flags or ‘government’ ones, or follow one or another of those basic patterns but also be charged with symbols that have particularly martial connotations… or be special in other ways, in NS, that none of the RL examples with which I’m familiar share.

One of the main uses for flags in RL has been for showing the nationality of ships and boats. This has generally been carried out using flags flown from staffs at the sterns of those vessels — or, in some cases, from one or another of their masts instead — while they are entering or leaving harbours and also while they are out at sea. Flags intended for this use are commonly called “ensigns”. The rules about exactly where & when they should be flown may differ from nation to nation.
Some nations may require the use of flags by vessels traversing [at least certain parts of] their inland waters, as well as by seagoing craft, whilst others may actually forbid this.
Some nations only specify a single ‘ensign’, for use by all of their ships and boats (perhaps with a size threshold below which its use isn’t legally required), but others have different designs for use by for different categories of vessels. If they do have more than one design then (on the basis of RL precedents) they could have any or all of the following _
1/. A ‘naval ensign’ or ‘war ensign’, for use by their navy’s warships and perhaps by naval auxiliaries as well.
2/. A separate ensign for use specifically by naval auxiliary vessels.
3/. A ‘naval reserve ensign’, allowed for use aboard commercial vessels whose commanders are officers in their nations’ naval reserve forces.
4/. A ‘state ensign’ or ‘government ensign’, for use by government-owned vessels other than warships (or possibly by all government-owned vessels, even including warships, instead), possibly with several variations to indicate precisely which agency owns those craft.
5/. One or more unique ensigns for use on vessels that belong to certain specific government agencies, such as a ‘Coastguard ensign’.
6/. A ‘merchant flag’ or ‘civil ensign’, for use by commercial vessels and possibly by pleasure craft as well. (In a few cases, individual companies might actually be allowed -- at least within certain geographical areas -- to use their own ‘house flags’ as ensigns in place of the national one.)
7/. A separate ‘yacht ensign’, and/or a ‘power squadrons ensign’, for use only by pleasure craft (whose use instead of the ‘civil ensign’ might only be legal in “home” waters” rather than abroad, as in the case of those from the USA in RL…), which might be an altered version of the ‘civil ensign’ rather than a significantly different design. (Several nations in RL, including the UK, also allow those yachts that belong to certain prestigious clubs to use either plain or [suitably] defaced versions of their ‘government ensigns’ — or even, although more rarely, of their ‘naval ensigns’ — instead of the plain or suitably-defaced versions of their ‘civil ensigns’ that would otherwise be specified…)
8/. ‘Colonial ensigns’ for use on civilian craft belonging to the administrations of specific dependencies, which might use variations in the ‘government ensign’ of the controlling nation…

It’s quite common for a national flag or ‘civil flag’ to be specified as its country’s ‘civil ensign’ too, and in fact some such flags in RL were originally used in the latter role for some time before they were adopted for use ashore as well. If a nation has a separate ‘government flag’ then this might be specified as the ensign for warships and perhaps for other government-owned vessels, or if it has a ‘war flag’ then that might be used for warships as well as for land forces, or the national flag might be used as the ‘government ensign’ too with a separate ‘civil ensign’ for commercial vessels… or perhaps, as in the RL United Kingdom, there might be one or more ensigns that are all used only for ships (and perhaps to indicate relevant buildings ashore), without any wider roles.
(One interesting case from RL is that of the French ensign for use at sea, which differs only subtly from France’s basic “Tricolour” flag with its three vertical stripes of blue [in the hoist], white and red: It uses a slightly darker shade of blue than the national flag as designed to be flown ashore, and changes the stripes from equal sections of the overall length to a 90:99:111 ratio instead because this is supposed to look more even when the flag is waving in a strong breeze…)
Some of the ensigns used by various nations in RL are specified as having different ratios of breadth to length than the same nation’s flags for use on land (with 1:2 and 2:3 respectively being fairly typical values), even if their designs are otherwise identical to those, although this isn’t by any means universal enough to be considered a firm rule. (Some national flags that have relatively long ratios specified even when they’re meant for use on land, such as the 1:2 of Britain’s “Union Flag”, were originally designed for use mainly at sea and have retained their proportions from those days.)

‘Jacks’ are another category of flags for use on ships and boats. They are flown (usually from temporarily-mounted staffs) at the bows of vessels that are either moored in harbours or “lying in the roadstead” (i.e. at anchor just offshore from places that don’t have suitable enclosed harbours), again to indicate nationality. The rules about their use may also differ from nation to nation, and they might be reserved for use by warships (and perhaps other government-owned vessels, too) in some cases or there might be different jacks for different categories of ships. (Under the laws of the RL United Kingdom, for example, the actual ‘Union Jack’ is reserved for use by government-owned vessels whilst privately-owned vessels can only fly a derivative of this that’s called the “pilot jack” — which has a broad, white border around the Union Jack’s design, and actually originated as a signal-flag to request that a pilot be sent aboard — instead… and the latter’s use is only optional, and is apparently quite uncommon nowadays…)
These are very often specified as square in shape, or at any rate as squarer than the same nation’s ensigns, but — again — this isn’t universal enough to be a firm rule even for just the RL Earth. Some of the more common designs for them are: the same as the relevant ‘national’ flag (or perhaps as a ‘government flag or ‘war’ flag, instead, if that would be more appropriate), but probably with this change in shape; the same as the relevant ensign, ditto; the canton of the relevant flag or ensign, if that has one; or an older flag, no longer used for its original purpose, whose history the country wants to commemorate.

Navies may also have distinctive ‘commission pennants’, long & narrow flags that are normally flown as national identifiers from their active warships’ main-masts, although these might not be used on those vessels that are being employed as senior officers’ flagships. Ships heading home in the expectation that they will be taken out of commission for at least a while may be ordered to fly even longer version of these, which may be called either ‘paying-off pennants’ [British term] or ‘homeward-bound pennants’ [American term].

The development of commercial aviation during the twentieth century AD led some RL nations to add ‘civil air ensigns’ or ‘civil aviation ensigns’ to their sets of flags: These could be flown at airports and landing-fields, perhaps at relevant buildings (such as the headquarters of National Aviation Authorities) elsewhere, from non-government aircraft while those are on the ground — and, for ‘flying boats’ & amphibians, on the water (and in fact the British ensign of this type was actually created specifically because there was a law against commercial vessels using the Union Flag on the water, and using the same ‘merchant flag’ that was specified for use by commercial shipping didn’t seem quite appropriate enough for flying boats…), and even from the sterns of airships in flight. (There were a few attempts made at flying them from airplanes in flight, too, but it was decided that they got worn out far too quickly during that process for doing so to make sense…) Their differences from their countries’ other ensigns are quite likely, on the basis of RL precedent, to include the use of light [or “sky”] blue for a substantial part of their area even if this hue doesn’t feature at all in those other flags.

Presumably the development of naval & commercial spacecraft, such as has already happened in some NS nations, might also lead to the creation of relevant flags…

Nations may also have distinctive flags for their Army (quite possibly with a large proportion of its area in some shade of red), Air Force (possibly called an ‘ensign’: Those used in RL commonly [but not always] have sky-blue as their main colour, with whatever roundel or other emblem is normally used to identify that nation’s military aircraft displayed in either the centre or the fly, and perhaps with the national flag, ‘government flag’ or ‘war flag’ as a canton), any other armed forces that they possess, and other government agencies & services. In some cases there may be just a single design of flag that is used for all of that nation’s armed forces.
Some nations might have specific flags for some or all of their governments’ different Ministries, rather than just for some or all of the various agencies & services that these run, too. If this is the case then RL precedent suggests that the Ministries responsible for navies or for defence as a whole are most likely ones to be given flags of their own, although there have certainly been cases where ministries with other roles were the first ones in their nations to be honoured in this way: The USA may be unique on RL Earth in having a different flag for every Cabinet-level department.

Nations with monarchs typically have flags for these and probably also for at least some other members of their families, either individually, by rank or in general. They may also have special flags that are used to indicate palaces & other Crown property, if they don’t just use either the national flag or a ‘government flag’ for this purpose.
The most common designs for “Royal” flags in RL are heraldic banners (i.e. flags featuring the same designs as the shields from their Arms), the entire Royal Arms displayed on a mono-coloured background or a background in those arms’ two or three “livery colours” (or perhaps on a mono-coloured background with a border in the latter hues), or either the national flag or the ‘government flag’ — or even the ‘war flag’ — with part or all of the Royal Arms added to its design.

Flags for Presidents and other non-Royal national leaders often follow similar principles to “Royal” ones. Some nations may also have distinguishing flags for Prime Ministers, some or all other government Ministers (in general, by department, and/or by grade: RL precedent suggests that those dealing with navies and defence are the most likely to be given distinctive banners), lower ranks of politicians; the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces in general or of specific services (where these positions aren’t held by higher-ranking national leaders anyway) and/or the chiefs-of-staff of those forces, the heads of other government agencies, colonial governors (by location or by general rank), and various grades of admirals, generals, diplomats, and other fairly senior officials.
St Edmundan Antarctic
11-09-2007, 13:39
Here, for an example of how one RL nation handles the matter, is an account of some different flags from the United Kingdom and the circumstances in which they should be used _

1/. The ‘Royal Standard’ is a heraldic banner used solely (nowadays) to indicate the presence of the monarch. Modified versions of this have been authorised for certain other members of the Royal Family, and there is also a form — which is differenced from the actual Royal flag itself by the addition of an ermine border — that is useable by any member of the family who hasn’t been granted the right to an individual design of their own. Additionally, the Prince of Wales has a separate standard — bearing traditional Welsh arms, rather than more widely “British” ones — for use within the principality itself.

2/. The “Union Flag”, or “Union Jack”, which combines the traditional national flags of England and Scotland with the flag that the UK’s government decided to use for Ireland, is generally considered to be the ‘national flag’ of the United Kingdom as a whole. It is used on land as the ‘government flag’ and as the general ‘royal flag’ (flown over palaces, for example, even when no members of the Royal Family are actually in residence there). It has effectively become the ‘civil flag’ for use on land, too, although it hasn’t actually been given this status in law yet and private citizens are still [at least in theory] supposed to obtain official permission before flying it. At sea it is used as the ‘jack’ for the Royal Navy’s vessels, although not for the other government-owned craft, and it is also the ‘distinguishing flag’ for an Admiral of the Fleet.
“Defaced” versions of this flag, various with badges at the centre, are used by ambassadors, by consuls, by governors and lieutenant-governors of colonies (and other dependencies), and as the “Sovereign’s Colours” of infantry regiments.

3/. The “Pilot Jack”, which consists of the Union Jack with a relatively wide border in white, was originally a signal for use by British ships to request that a pilot be sent aboard: It is now defined as the appropriate ‘jack’ for non-governmental vessels too, and called the “Merchant Jack”, although its use in that role is not compulsory and apparently not very common.

4/. The flags of England, Scotland, Wales and [Northern] Ireland may also be used as ‘civil flags’ on land, and the Scottish one (at least) has now become the ‘government flag’ for that country’s devolved administration too, but the English one can no longer legally be used at sea by civilians without special permission from the government because it is now officially employed as the ‘distinguishing flag’ to indicate the presence or flagship of a full Admiral or (with either one or two red discs, respectively, added in the hoist) either a Vice-Admiral or a Rear-Admiral. Use of the Scottish and [Northern] Irish flags at sea also tends to be discouraged, because of potential confusion with specific flags (that have specific meanings) from the International Signalling Code.

5/. The “Red Ensign”, which is a red flag with the Union Jack as a canton, is the UK’s ‘civil ensign’. It is primarily used on the water, as the ensign for commercial vessels and also for some pleasure craft… including any such vessels that are registered in colonies or other dependencies that haven’t yet been granted special ensigns of their own. It could also quite legally be flown on land by any British citizen, but has not been adopted as the ‘civil flag’ for that purpose…
“Defaced” versions of this flag are used as the civil ensigns of some Crown Dependencies, colonies and other British dependencies, and for the ‘civil ensigns’ of Australia and New Zealand as well. (The version assigned to Bermuda is also used as that colony’s ‘civil flag’, and Canada used its version of this flag as a ‘national flag’ as well as a ‘civil ensign’ too until it adopted today’s “Maple Leaf” flag for both of those uses instead.) There are also different versions of this flag, “defaced” in various ways, that have been authorised as the ensign for craft belonging to Trinity House (the organisation that’s responsible for all English & Welsh lighthouses, which also has its own ‘jack’), as the ensigns for various other government agencies or public bodies, as the ensigns for use by boats belonging to various yacht clubs, and as the ‘house flag’ of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

6/. The “Blue Ensign”, which is a dark blue flag with the Union Jack as a canton, is the UK’s ‘government ensign’. It is primarily used on the water, as the ensign for all vessels belonging to government departments other than the Navy (e.g. the Customs & Excise Service, the Coastguard, or the Army), vessels belonging to the Naval Auxiliary services, craft belonging to the ‘Port of London Authority’, some commercial craft whose current commanders are officers in the Naval Reserve, all vessels belonging to the administrations of [almost all] colonies or other dependencies, and boats belonging to certain yacht clubs. It is normally “defaced” with a suitable badge to show just which of these potential users a particular vessel belongs to, although some yacht clubs (and members of the Naval Reserve?) are entitled to fly the plain version. There are over twenty different official organisations in the UK that have their own versions of it, even excluding the colonies and yacht clubs. The forms assigned to colonies and other dependencies are normally defined as their ‘government flags’ for use on land, too, and are often employed as their ‘civil flags’ as well.
Those government-owned vessels that use this flag in some form (whether plain or “defaced”) as their ensigns generally employ squarer versions of the relevant designs as their jacks, too.
Colonial flags of this type gave rise to the modern flags of independent Australia and New Zealand, and — with the blue lightened in shade — of Fiji and Tuvalu as well.
The flag assigned to the administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory also has the Union Jack as a canton, and a badge “defacing” the fly, but has a pattern of wavy stripes in white & dark blue — rather than a plain field of either of those colours — as its main background. The flag assigned to the administration of the British Antarctic Territory, which is used as an ensign by scientific vessels working under that administration’s authority, also follows the general pattern for colonial flags but has the canton and badge superimposed on a plain white field rather than a blue one.

7/. The “White Ensign”, which consists of the traditional English flag — i.e. the red cross of St George, on a white background — with the Union Jack as a canton, is the UK’s ‘naval ensign’. It is flown by all vessels belonging to the Royal Navy, and may also be used (in the same, un-“defaced” form), as the ensign for boats belonging to one particular a yacht club whose name is the “Royal Yacht Squadron”. (A version of this flag, defaced by the addition of a small badge, is also allowed to one yacht club that’s based in Bermuda…) Modified versions of this flag are also used as the ‘naval ensigns’ of Australia, New Zealand, and various other former British dependencies.

8/. The UK also has a ‘civil air ensign’. This has an “Air Force blue” field, bearing a dark blue cross that is fimbriated in white, with the Union Flag as a canton. It may be flown at airports and landing fields, at relevant buildings (such as the offices of the British Airports Authority) elsewhere, from aircraft on the ground (although the Union Jack is probably more likely to be used in this role — if any flag is actually flown in that situation — nowadays ) and flying boats or amphibious aircraft on the water, and from the sterns of airships while they are in flight.

9/. There is a flag for the ‘Admiralty’, as distinct from the actual Navy, which might still be used for some purposes despite that department’s merger into the Ministry of Defence. This has a red field, charged with a fouled anchor — lying on its side, with its head towards the hoist — in gold.
The flag of the Army also has a red field, which is charged with the Royal Crest (of a lion standing on a crown) over crossed swords in gold. Any watercraft that belong to the Army, however, fly a [specific] version of the Blue Ensign instead of this. ‘Distinguishing flags’ for generals and field marshals also exist.
The flag of the Royal Air Force is sky-blue, with the Union Flag as a canton and with an RAF roundel (composed of a red disc surrounded by a white ring which is in turn surrounded by a blue ring) in the fly. In addition to its use at airfields and other relevant sites, and in ceremonial matters, it may be flown as an ensign by those watercraft that belong to the RAF. ‘Distinguishing flags’ for senior RAF officers are sky blue, with darker bands at head and foot, charged with differing patterns of horizontal stripes in red.
There is also a flag for the Ministry of Defence: This has three horizontal stripes, in navy blue, red, and “Air Force blue”, and is charged with one of three different emblems depending on whether it is being used for the actual Ministry (and premises which this owns), for the Chief of the Defence Staff, or for the combined armed forces.
The “Regimental Colours” of the infantry regiments have fields in their regiments’ “facing colours”, with a relatively small Union Flag as a canton and the regimental badge as the main charge.