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Glossary of vexillology

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Flag terminology is the nomenclature, or system of terms, used in vexillology, the study of flags, to describe precisely the parts, patterns, and other attributes of flags and their display.

Flag types[edit]

Banderole or bannerol

Main article: Banderole

A small flag or streamer carried on the lance of a knight, or a long, narrow flag flown from the masthead of a ship.

Main article: Banner

Generically, a synonym for a flag of any kind, and in heraldry specifically, a square or rectangular flag whose design is identical to the shield of a coat of arms; also denominated a banner of arms.

Main article: Burgee

A distinguishing flag of a recreational boating organisation, which commonly has the shape of a pennant.
Civil ensign, merchant flag, or merchant ensign

Main article: Civil ensign

A version of a national flag that is flown on civil ships to denote their nationality.
Civil flag

Main article: Civil flag

A version of a national flag that is flown on civil installations or craft.
Colour or color

Main article: Military colours, standards and guidons

The flag of a military unit.
Corner flag

Main article: Football pitch § Pitch boundary

A small flag flown at each of the corners of a football pitch or other sports field.
Courtesy flag or courtesy ensign

Main article: Maritime flag § Courtesy flag

A flag that is flown on a visiting ship in foreign waters as a sign of respect for the foreign nation.

Main article: Ensign

The flag of any ship or military unit, or, generically, a synonym for any kind of flag. On ships, an ensign is normally flown at the stern.

Main article: Fanion

A small flag that the French military uses.
Gonfalon, gonfanon, or gonfalone

Main article: Gonfalon

A heraldic flag that is suspended and pendent from a crossbar.

Main article: Military colours, standards and guidons

A small flag that a military unit flies; in Scottish heraldry, a smaller version of the standard (see below).

Main article: Jack (flag)

A flag flown from a short jackstaff at the bow of a ship.
Pennon or pennant

Main article: Pennon

A flag that is wider at the hoist than at the fly.
Pipe banner

Main article: Pipe banner

A decorative flag for Scottish Highland bagpipes.
Prayer flag

Main article: Prayer flag

A kind of flag that is flown along mountain ridges and peaks in the Himalayas in order to bless the surrounding land.
Rank flag or distinguishing flag

Main article: Maritime flag § Rank flags

A flag that a superior naval officer flies on his flagship or headquarters.
Signal flag

Main article: Flag signals

A flag or pennant that communicates or signals information that is not heraldic.

Main article: Heraldic flag § Heraldic standard

In heraldry, a long tapering flag that bears heraldic badges and the motto of the armiger; it may also refer to a military colour that cavalry units fly or a royal standard of a monarch or member of a royal family.
State flag or governmental flag

Main article: State flag

A version of a national flag that represents and may be restricted in use only to the national government and agencies thereof; the design of many state flags consists of the civil flag (see above) defaced with a coat of arms or other heraldic charge.

Main article: Vexilloid

A flag-like object that is used in a similar symbolic manner as a flag, but that differs from a conventional flag in some way.

Main article: Vexillum

A flag-like object that is suspended from a horizontal crossbar; the Ancient Roman army used it as its military standard.
War flag, military flag, or battle flag

Main article: War flag

A variant of a national flag that a nation's military forces use on land.

Main article: Windsock

A conical textile tube that is used to indicate the direction and strength of wind.

Flag elements[edit]

Parts of a flag
A coat of arms or simple heraldic symbol.

Main article: Canton (flag)

Any quarter of a flag, but commonly means the upper hoist quarter, such as the field of stars in the flag of the United States or the Union Jack in the Australian Flag.
A figure or symbol appearing in the field of a flag.
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.
The background of a flag; the color behind the charges.
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.
A decorative or protective cap atop the flagpole. Often shaped like a sphere, but can also be a shape with heraldic significance, such as a spear or an eagle. Sometimes referred to as a capper.
The half or edge of a flag farthest away from the flagpole. This term also sometimes refers to the horizontal length of a flag.

Main article: Flag § Hoisting the flag

A piece of loose fabric running along the hoist for attaching a flag to its rope.
The half or edge of a flag nearest to the flagpole. This term also sometimes refers to the vertical dimension of a flag.
The span of a flag along the side at right angles to the flagpole.
Width or breadth
The span of a flag down the side parallel to the flagpole.

Basic patterns[edit]

Flags often inherit traits seen in traditional European heraldry designs, and as a result, patterns often share names.

Name Illustration Example
Vertical bisection
(per pale)
Flag of Algeria
Horizontal bisection
(per fess)
Flag of Indonesia
Diagonal bisection
(per bend)
Flag of Papua New Guinea
Diagonal bisection
(per bend sinister)
Flag of Bhutan
Flag of Nigeria
Vertical tricolor
(Tierced in pale)
Flag of France
Flag of Austria
Horizontal tricolor
(Tierced in fess)
Flag of India
Flag of Trinidad and Tobago
Bend sinister
Flag of Tanzania
Flag of Pakistan
Side sinister
Canadian Coast Guard Jack
Flag of New Brunswick
Flag of California
(per cross)
Flag of Panama
Diagonal quadrisection
(per saltire)
Flag of Grenada[note 1]
Greek cross
Flag of Switzerland
Symmetric cross
Flag of England
Nordic cross
Flag of Sweden
Flag of Scotland
Flag of Taiwan
Flag of Maldives
Flag of the Czech Republic
Pile throughout
Flag of Eritrea
Flag of NAVA
Flag of South Africa
Flag of Guyana
Flag of Jubaland
The Senyera

Techniques in flag display[edit]

Flying the flag upside-down,[note 2] or tying it into a wheft.[1]

Main article: Half-mast

A style of flag display where the flag is flown at least the width of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the pole.
The act or function of raising a flag, as on a rope.
The act or function of taking down a flag, as on a rope.


Flag illustrations generally depict flags flying from the observer's point of view from left to right, the view known as the obverse (or "front"); the other side is the reverse (or "back"). There are some exceptions, notably some Islamic flags inscribed in Arabic, which is written from right to left; for these the obverse is defined as the side with the hoist to the observer's right.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See also Bordure.
  2. ^ For example, 36 US Code §176 provides: "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."


  1. ^ Nelson, Phil (30 September 2006). "Flying flags upside down". Flags of the World. Archived from the original on 19 May 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2021.

External links[edit]