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Flag terminology is the system of Terms used in Vexillology, the study of Flags, to describe precisely the Parts, Patterns and other attributes of Flags and their Display.   Here are the essential  'Rules of Flag Etiquette'  covering the 5 following Areas:

Standard Flag Parts and Terms     How To Display a Flag
Positions Of Honour     Basic Patterns In Flags     Techniques In Flag Display
(Flag  FAQ – Bottom of this page)


Flag Terms Diagram

Badge – A coat of arms or simple heraldic symbol.

Base – The background or main color of the Flag.

Bordering – A different-colored edge around the outside of the Flag, or part of a Flag.

Burgee – The Flag of a boating club, usually in the shape of a tapered swallowtail.

Canton – Any quarter of a Flag, but commonly means the upper hoist (left) quarter, such as the field of stars in the Flag of the United States or the Union Flag in the Australian Flag.

Charge – A figure or symbol appearing in the field of a Flag.

Defacing – Changing a Flag by adding something to it, especially concerning colonial Flags.   (Note: that the term 'defacing' doesn't mean 'vandalizing' when used in reference to Flags.)

Differencing – Referring to the design of one Flag as a variation of another Flag – either by changing a color, or adding or removing a charge, etc.   For example, the Flag of Italy was 'differenced' from that of France by changing the blue stripe to green.

Emblem – A device often used as a charge on a Flag.   It may be heraldic in origin or modern for example, the maple leaf on the Canadian Flag.

Ensign – A Flag used by ships at sea.   Nations may have civil, state, and war 'ensigns'.

Field – The background of a Flag; the color behind the charges.

Fimbriation – A narrow edging or border, often in white or gold, on a Flag to separate two other colors.   For example, the white and gold lines of the South African Flag.

Finial – The ornament on the end of a Flag staff or Flag Pole.

Fly – The half or edge of a Flag farthest away from the Flag Pole.   This term also sometimes refers to the horizontal length of a Flag.

Halyard – A rope used to raise a Flag.

Hoist – The edge or end of a Flag nearest the pole.   Flags are usually hoisted on the left side, except in the case of some Arab Flags.   This term also sometimes refers to the vertical width of a Flag.

Honor Point – The place on a Flag where the color, or charge with the greatest or highest symbolism is placed - almost always the upper left hand side.

House Flag – A corporate or personal Flag; a Flag which does not signify nationality or citizenship.

Jack – A small Flag designating nationality, flown from the bow of a naval vessel while in port.

Length – The span of a Flag along the side at right angles to the Flag Pole.

Mast – (or Pole) A device used to fly a Flag.

Pennant – (or Pennon) Any triangular or roughly triangular Flag.

Proportion – (or Ratio) The relationship of a Flag's width to its length.  For example, the Canadian Flag has a proportion of 1:2.

Saint Andrew's Cross – A cross stretching from corner to corner of a Flag forming an 'X', also called a 'Saltire'.

Saint George's Cross – A cross with arms vertical and horizontal forming a '+', stretching out to the edges of the Flag.

State Flag – The version of the national Flag for use by a country's government.

Streamer – A long, narrow Flag.

Swallowtail – A Flag that comes to two or three points at the fly end.

Triband – A Flag with three stripes - arranged either horizontally or vertically.

Tricolor – A triband of three different colors.   Many tribands are more properly termed tricolors. The Flag of France is often called "Le Tricolore".

Vexillogram – A picture or design specification for a Flag.

Vexillographer – A person who designs Flags.

Vexilloid – A rigid sign carried on a pole, especially those used by ancient Roman legions as unit identifiers; the forerunners of modern Flags.

Vexillophile – A Flag collector or Flag enthusiast.

Wearing – A synonym for ´flying´ when applied to the ensign of a ship at sea.

Width – The span of a Flag down the side parallel to the Flag Pole.


Against a Flat Surface – The canton (1st quadrant) should be in the upper left position.

On a Staff – The canton should be placed nearest the top of the staff.   When carried, the Flag should be aloft and free.

Suspended Vertically in the Middle of a Street – The upper part of the Flag should face north in an east-west street and face east in a north-south street.

Sharing the Same Base – When placed in an arrangement of 3 Flags, the National Flag should be placed at the centre, or highest point.   In a 2 Flag arrangement, the National Flag should be placed left of centre.

When Used to Cover a Casket at Funerals – The canton should be draped over the upper left corner of the casket.   The Flag should be removed before the casket is lowered.   The Flag size should be 4½ft. x 9ft. (1.4m x 2.8m).

Half-Masting for Mourning – Flags are flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning.   Flags are flown at half-mast from the day of death up to and including the day of funeral.   On Remembrance Day, November 11th, the Flag is flown at half-mast from 11:00am to 12:00pm.


Flown Alone – The National Flag should be flown at the centre or left of centre position depending on the number of Poles.

With Flags of Other Sovereign Nations – All Flags should be flown at the same height with the host nation Flag on the left of the observer facing the Flags.   The host nation Flag should be raised first and lowered last.

With Flags of Provinces and Territories – When provincial and territorial Flags are flown with the National Flag of Canada, the order is based on the date of entry into Confederation of the provinces followed by the territories. In a grouping of Flags that includes the National Flag of Canada and all of the Flags of the provinces and territories, the order of precedence is:
  1. National Flag Of Canada  (1867)   CA
  2. Ontario  (1867)   ON
  3. Quebec  (1867)   QC
  4. Nova Scotia  (1867)   NS
  5. New Brunswick  (1867)   NB
  6. Manitoba  (1870)   MB
  7. British Columbia  (1871)   BC
  8. Prince Edward Island     (1873)   PE
  9. Saskatchewan  (1905)   SK
  10. Alberta  (1905)   AB
  11. Newfoundland and Labrador  (1949)   NL
  12. Northwest Territories  (1870)   NT
  13. Yukon Territories  (1898)   YT
  14. Nunavut  (1999)   NU
When there are more than three Flag Poles/Masts, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the left of the observer facing the Flags, followed by the Flags of the provinces and territories.   An additional National Flag of Canada may be displayed at the end of the line if desired.

Display Along A Wall:
Flag Display along a Wall.

Flag Display Flanking an Entrance  Flag V Display
 Flanking An Entrance:                                 "V" Display For Visual Effect:                                 


Hoist – The act or function of raising a Flag, as on a rope.

Lower – The act or function of taking down a Flag, as on a rope.

Half Staff or Half Mast – A style of Flag display where the Flag is flown at the width of the Flag from the top.   Usually this is done by first hoisting the Flag to the top, then lowering it the width of the Flag.   Similarly, when lowering a half-mast Flag, you raise it to full height and then lower it.  (Equally valid 'half-masting' is flying the Flag at two–thirds of its normal height.   This is especially applicable where the full height of the Pole is not visible to most observers; for instance, where the Pole is mounted on the roof of a building and the lower portion of the Pole is not visible from street level.)   This usually denotes distress or a show of grief, such as mourning a death.   The use of 'mast' suggests naval use but typically the two terms are interchangeable.

Distress – Flying the Flag upside-down or tying it into a wheft, which is a kind of streamer or Flag used either as a signal, or at the masthead for ornament or to indicate the direction of the wind to aid in steering.

Disposal Of Flags – When a Flag becomes tattered and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way by burning it privately.


Basic Flag Patterns


What is the most popular color in the world´s Flags?
Red is the most popular color being found on approximately 75% of all national Flags of the world.   White is present on about 70% of the Flags and blue is common on approximately 50% of the Flags.

Why are Flags hoisted on the left hand side?
It is just because it´s common to read from left to right, but in some Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, where reading is done from right to left, the hoist is on the right side of the Flag.

Where is the biggest Flag in the world and how big is it?
The largest Flag ever flown was a Flag of the USA which measured 255 ft. by 505 ft. (78m by 154m).   It was hoisted vertically on cables across Hoover Dam to celebrate the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay.   According to Dr. William Crampton, the largest Flag that constantly flies is the Flag of Brazil, in Brasilia; the country's capital.   This Flag is 230 ft. by 328 ft. (70m by 100m).

Why do some national Flags have a coat of arms on some versions of the Flag but not on other versions?
Many countries with Flags that display a coat of arms use that version as a state Flag and they remove the coat of arms to make their civil Flag, to be used by the country's citizens.   Examples of this include Spain and Ecuador.

Why are the proportions of Flags so different throughout the world?
There isn't a correct or universal proportion for any Flag as each one is unique.   There are a few trends in Flag proportions based on some influential Flags.   Flags based on the French Flag copy its proportions of 2:3, German Flags are 3:5, U.S. Flags are 10:19, while Russian, Commonwealth of Nations and Communist Flags use 1:2.

Why do some country's Flags look the same as others?
Some Flags look the same out of pure coincidence and other Flags are similar because of the nation's geographical location or religious beliefs.   Many colonial Flags, such as British Commonwealth countries are also similar to each other.   For example, many Flags of Islamic nations will use the color green to signify their religious beliefs while many British Commonwealth countries may have the British Union Jack incorporated into their national Flag.

When was the first Flag made?
Ancient Flags were made out of materials such as wood, metal and stone.   The oldest preserved textile Flag is a crude Roman cloth that was found in Egypt and historians figure it dates back to the 3rd Century AD.

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