National flags are made of and part of the history of a country. They are often related to a key historic moment like the fusion of kingdoms or the values of a newborn country like in the post-colonial era. If you have ever wondered what were the meanings of the symbols and the combinations of colors that differentiate one national flag from another, do not look further because today we are giving you the keys to eight national flags meanings.
1. The British national flag
The national flag of United Kingdom is known as the Union Jack flag. It is composed of multiple elements. First, we have the big red cross in the middle, that was borrowed from England’s flag. This red cross of Saint George, the patron saint of England, is shadowed by some white lines to highlight it and to remind the colours of the English flash. The same color applies to the old Irish flag which was a white font with the diagonal red cross of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Finally the last blue color of the UK national flag belongs to Scotland. Its traditional flag was also a diagonal cross, but white this time on a blue background. Wales was part of England at the time (1801), which explains why it is not represented.
When it comes to the meaning of each color on the Union Jack flag:
- White represents peace and honesty
- Red represents bravery and valor
- Blue represents loyalty, perseverance, and justice
2. United States of America
The United States’s national flag, a.k.a the “stars and stripes”, has not always been the one we know today. Since it was adopted in 1777, it has changed 28 times before its final form on Independence Day in 1960. When it comes to the national flags meanings: the very first symbolic of the national US flag is that of the 13 stripes. They represent the 13 former British colonies that joined together to establish themselves as sovereign nations. The 50 stars on the blue square are associated to the number of states united to create the United States of America. But why did the symbols of stripes and stars be specifically chosen? According to the House of Representatives “ the star is the symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun”. Now you know.
The meanings behind the colors of the national flag seem to have a British influence:
- White signifies purity and innocence
- Red signifies hardiness and valor
- Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice
3. The Ghanaian national flag
Ghana’s national flag has lived one transformation from its original form in 1949 when it was just a tricolour flag, red-white-green. At that time, this flag, developed by the Convention People’s Party aiming for more self-governance, was a well-known symbol of modernisation and self-reliance across the Gold Coast. When Ghana succeeded in becoming the first sub-saharan country to obtain its independence in 1957, the national flag was modified. The red and green colors were retained but white changed to yellow and a black five-pointed star was added in the center as a symbol of the african emancipation/freedom.
The meanings of the three other colors are quite common to many ex-colonies of Africa:
- Red symbolises the independence struggle
- Yellow (as gold) symbolises the mineral wealth
- Green symbolises the rich forests and farms
4. New Zealand
In our national flags meanings list, New Zealand’s national flag has a special place because it is quite often confused with the Australian flag. The difference is really about the colors. As part of the Commonwealth, New Zealand’s flag displays their British heritage from the colonial time with the Union Jack in a corner like many other members’ flags. In addition, the royal blue background is associated to the ensign of the Blue Squadron of the Royal Navy. The four and only stars of the national flag symbolise the Southern Cross under which New Zealand is located in the Pacific Ocean. The red choice was for the stars to echo the British flag, even though it is also said that it was the Maori’s choice for the color symbolic. New Zealand’s flag, although widely used since it’s creation in 1869, was officially adopted only 31 years later in 1902.
Despite their Maori roots, the national flag’s colors have the same meaning as the Union Jack’s plus some adds-up
- White represents peace and honesty
- Red represents hardiness, bravery and valor but for Maori it represents rank and mana
- Blue represents loyalty, perseverance and justice but also the color of the sea and the sky
5. The Australian flag
The Australian flag is to be differentiated from New Zealand’s by the numbers of stars, five instead of four. Also, the use of the color white instead of red. Unlike many other flags, Australia’s was a result of a competition held in 1901 by Australia’s first Prime Minister. It aimed to design a flag for the new Commonwealth of Australia. Five designs quite similar came first and their key elements merged to create the new official flag. First, the Union Jack to represent the country’s British history. Secondly the big white Commonwealth/Federation star. With its seven points, it represents the unity of the six states and the territories of Australia. Finally, the Southern star in white reminds the location of the country as it can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.
Again, the colors of the flag align with their British symbolic:
- White symbolises peace and honesty
- Red symbolises bravery and valor
- Blue symbolises loyalty, perseverance, and justice
6. South Africa
South Africa’s national flag has struggled over the decades to please the population. Indeed, it pushed for flags designs that would less and less remind the power of the British during their time as a colony. From 1925 to 1994, the national flag changed colors combination at least three times. First, it was inspired by the Union Jack, then the Dutch flag, to finally reach the design that we know today. This modern version of the flag is the one part of our national flags meanings and aims to represent unity. The union of the three colors of the flag of the Boer Republic and the African National Congress. This flag symbolises also the country’s democracy after the Apartheid.
The rainbow flag, which is among the most colorful in the world, shows 6 colors in Y shape. It symbolises the union between African and European cultures.
- Green is an echo to the fertility of the land
- Black represents the African community
- Yellow (gold) signifies the wealth of the country
- Blue means the endless possibilities for South Africans
- White means peace
- Red is a reference to the colors found on most European flags
7. The Irish flag
Still today, the Irish tricolour national flag represents perfectly the political landscape as in 1848 when it was created. But, It was only adopted as the official national flag after the independence from Britain, almost 70 years later in 1921. Compared to many other flags, the meaning behind the colors are not necessarily values related but more religious.
- White is the hope for peace between all the protagonists of the long lasting political and religious fights, which is why it is in the center of the flag.
- Orange stands for Irish Protestants, from the North in particular, since 1690 when William of Orange defeated the deposed King James II, a Roman Catholic. His victory as the English, Scottish and Irish leader secured the Protestant dominance over the Irish lands.
- Green represents the shamrocks and verdant landscapes but has also been chosen to stand for the Irish Catholics and the Republican cause. It is an echo to an older unofficial Irish flag with a gold harp on a green background used as a symbol of nationalism.
8. The Jamaican national flag
Often referred to as The Cross or The Black, Green, and Gold, the last but not least on our national flags meanings list is the ex British colony Jamaica. The flag was designed through a public competition. Then, it was officially adopted with the independence of the country in 1962. Originally, the winning design had the colors in horizontal stripes but soon it was changed because it looked too similar to the flag of Tanganyika. The uniqueness of the Jamaican flag remains in the choice of colors that do not include the usual red, white, and blue. Like many colonies, the flag we know today was quite far from the ones before that included the British flag in it. If the design has changed over the years, the meanings of its current colors is:
- Black was first meant for the difficulties faced by the country but today, it represents the people of the land
- Green was first meant for the island itself but now it is specifically about the abundance of the flora
- Yellow (gold) was first meant for the bright sun that shines over the land. It then switched to become the wealth found in the island
As you would have probably noticed, the national flags of the English-speaking countries share some similarities in the process of adoption: taking quite a long time sometimes with many design changes. However, the importance of a national flag for any independent country is obvious which is why the symbolics must be linked to their history and have to be accepted by all because it’s their first representation in the world.
Interested in other flags, here you will find a few more explained.