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Lisa's week: The Union Jack

Union Jack

With all this talk of, “Will they stay or will they go?” (in other words, Brexit), a student recently asked me where the Union Jack gets its name from. I had to admit that I didn’t know. So, after a little research, which surprised and enlightened me, I’d like to give you a brief overview.

The British flag that we all recognise today is made up of the flags of England (the red cross on white), Scotland (the white diagonal cross on blue) and originally Ireland, now only Northern Ireland, (a red diagonal cross on white). The Welsh flag featuring a large red dragon is not represented.

Wales had already been united with England, becoming a Principality in the Kingdom of England, in the early 1500s. When Elizabeth II died without an heir in 1603, King James VI of Scotland inherited the Kingdoms of England and Ireland. He decided to create a union flag of England and Scotland in 1606 after declaring himself King of Great Britain.

The flag of Ireland was incorporated into the original Union Flag by Royal proclamation in 1801 giving us the design we see flying proudly today. The individual flags of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also popular and used to signify pride on our national days and very popularly, in football.

But why “Jack”?

There are several theories regarding the use of the name Jack including a reference to the part of a ship from which the original flag would be flying – the jack being another word for the bow flag of a ship - or even a reference to the soldiers’ jack-ets! But the one theory that seems more likely to me is that Jack can be another form of the name James (in Latin, Jacobus).

Although at times, the flag has been called the Union Flag, the flag of Britain or simply the British flag, the name “Union Jack” is the standard used by all and now known around the world.

By the way, let me offer you this new word to add to your ever-growing vocabulary: vexillologist. It’s a great looking word isn’t it? And what does it mean, you might ask – it’s a flag expert! It might not be word you need every day, but any time you want to make small talk about your extensive knowledge of flags, this will definitely come in handy!


What is Lisa's week?

"We’ve (hopefully) been entertaining you so far with the meaning and background of a weekly English idiom and now we’ve decided to expand that a little to give me the chance to share some details that come my way in my daily life as a Business English teacher. I hope to find weekly tidbits of information and experience to tell you about such as British traditions that I (or we) celebrate, or typical mistakes made when speaking English, or even some of the funny things I come across in my daily life. We hope that you’ll enjoy the insight into the life of a Brit in Germany!"

Episode 1: The Queen's 90th birthday

Episode 2: What did you do last Sunday?

Episode 3: What's the best way to answer?

Episode 4: The sound of London

Episode 5: Not just a last resort

Episode 6: Quick tip of the week: advice vs. advise

Episode 7: Title talk