Fun with Flags: How Well Do You Know Flags from Around the World
Quick: Which Asian country's flag showcases a rising sun? Which Middle Eastern flag, when you look closely, reveals religious script? And which African flag includes the image of (yes) an assault rifle?
We've rounded up some of the most interesting national flags from around the world, to share some facts and test your knowledge.
How many can you correctly identify?
After the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789, the royal blue and gold fleur-de-lis disappeared and in its place came this flag born of independence. Known as the Tricolore, it wasn’t officially adopted as the national flag until 1794. Colors symbolize the three French estates: white is for the clergy, blue for the bourgeoisie and red for nobility.
Religion plays an important role in the French Tricolore, as the blue is associated with Saint Martin of Tours and the red is connected to Saint Denis, both important religious leaders of France during the third century. The blue and red are also colors associated with the Virgin Mary.
Commonly referred to as the Union Jack, the U.K.’s Union Flag has been the symbol of the country since 1801. The design is actually a combination of flags to represent the unification of England, Scotland and Ireland. (Wales was already united with England well before the Union was formed.)
The blue comes from Scotland’s blue and white Saltire, which had been in use since the 15th century and still flies as the national flag of Scotland.
England’s red and white Cross of Saint George also gets a nod in the design. That flag dates back to the Middle Ages and is still flown in England, though those outside of England associate the country with the Union Jack.
Ireland’s red and white Cross of Saint Patrick flag is integrated in the UK flag too — though interestingly, it is not used as a symbol of Ireland today, as the Irish consider it a sign of the English invasion.
As Ireland regained part of its independence in 1922, the new Republic of Ireland adopted a fresh flag. Similar to the French Tricolore with its color-block design (in this case, featuring green, white and orange) the flag was designed in the mid-1800s by French women sympathizing with the Irish cause.
The orange represents the Irish Protestants, green represents the Irish Catholics and white, in the center of the two, represents a truce between them.
Following the Easter Rising in 1916, the flag was raised in Dublin and quickly became the symbol of Ireland. After the war for independence, it officially became the country's national flag.
As legend has it, when the Duke of Austria, Leopold V, returned from war in the 1200s, his once-white clothing was so stained with blood that it was red, save for the white stripe not revealed until he removed his belt. Hence: the red and white stripes of Austria's flag.
In reality, the red and white stripes date back much further than the 1200s – they were a symbol of the Babenberg Dynasty, dating back to Leopold I in 962.
The Hapsburg Dynasty changed the flag to its colors of black and yellow, but in 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire became a German state, the red and white flag was adopted. It became official in 1945.
Brazil’s iconic national flag has served as the symbol of Brazil since November 19, 1889, and is filled with meaning.
This green flag with a yellow rhombus uses colors that represent, respectively, the House of Braganza of Pedro I, who was the first Emperor of Brazil, and the House of Habsburg for his wife, Empress Maria Leopoldina. The flag is known as the Verde e amarela – “the yellow and green one.”
In the center of the flag is the blue nighttime sky filled with stars representing the 27 states of Brazil. (At the time of its creation, there were only 21 stars.)
The white line crossing the sky is the Southern Cross, the brightest constellation in the Southern Hemisphere. Inscribed on the cross is Brazil’s motto, "Order and Progress" – Ordem e Progresso.
Until 2002, Antarctica did not have its own flag. That year, when the Antarctic Treaty System’s governing group chose the continent's official flag, they selected a simple design showing land at the bottom of the world.
Covered in ice and surrounded by water, the flag looks like it was plucked off the global map, complete with longitudinal lines converging on the island.
The only flag in the world that is not a rectangle is Nepal’s double pennon, officially adopted in 1962.
The flag’s peaks are meant to symbolize the nation's majestic Himalayan mountains. On each peak is a sun and moon of white, for Nepal will last as long as the sun and the moon.
As red is the national color of the country, the main color of the flag is red, outlined in blue, representing the bravery of Nepal’s people.
Similarly, the flag of Saint Lucia showcases the Caribbean island’s famous twin peaks, the Pitons. The yellow and black triangles represent the volcanic mountains jutting out from the blue Caribbean Sea.
The island had been under French and then British rule, flying the flags of both as a colony. When Saint Lucia became an Associated State in 1967, this flag became the symbolic flag. Saint Lucia became an independent country in 1979, and with it, the flag continued as its national flag.
The flag of the Bahamas also represents an island setting, in this case by showcasing two blue stripes – one representing the sky and the other representing the sea. The gold stripe in the middle stands for the sandy beaches between the two.
The black triangle is a symbol of strength, representing the people of the Bahamas.
Like other Caribbean nations, the Bahamas was a colony of Britain and flew the standards of the U.K. When the country negotiated its independence in 1973, the Bahama Islands became the Bahamas and incorporated its national flag.
The colorful flag of South Africa did not become a symbol of the nation until Nelson Mandela, freed from prison, became the country’s president following the 1994 general election – the first fully democratic election to be held in the country strife with apartheid.
The first country to use six primary colors, the flag combined the red, white and blue of the Boer Republics and the yellow, black and green from the African National Congress to create a unified national flag.
The white represents purity and innocence; blue represents perseverance and justice; green represents the fertility of the land; red represents valor; yellow represents the gold wealth found in South Africa; and black represents the people of the nation.
The only flag to feature a modern weapon is controversial, and a new addition to the world of flags. Adopted in 1983, the flag's rifle with bayonet symbolizes Mozambique's defense following civil war.
Formerly under Portuguese rule, the country fought for independence under the Mozambican Liberation Front, which carried a flag in red – the color now used on the new flag’s triangle. The stripes also are symbols of the country. As on South Africa's flag, green represents the fertility of the land, black the African people and yellow the nation's mineral wealth. White lines separating the colors signify peace.
Crossing the rifle is a hoe, which represents the country’s agriculture. The open book is a symbol of education’s importance to the country, while the gold star is a nod to Mozambique’s Marxism connections.
Did you know the Iranian flag has words appearing across its stripes? The three-color flag features a green stripe to represent the country’s growth, white to represent peace and red to represent bravery, as well as love. But look closely, and you’ll see script of white running across the green, and script of red running across the white.
This Kufic script repeats Allahu Akbar, which means "Allah (God) is the greatest," again and again.
The symbol in the middle of the flag is Iran’s national emblem and stands for Allah as well.
The flag was originally created in 1907 but became the national flag in 1980, following the Iranian Revolution.
Japan is known as “the land of the rising sun,” and its flag – showcasing a rising red sun set on a background of white – makes that crystal clear. Officially called Nisshoki, which means the sun-mark flag, it first became the national symbol back in 1870.
Why is the rising sun Japan’s nickname, you may ask? Japan’s names in Japanese are Nippon and Nihon, which means “where the sun begins.” Japanese religion believes the Emperor is a descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Thus, Land of the Rising Sun!
Our northern neighbor’s renowned Maple Leaf flag (or l’Unifolie, in its French-speaking provinces), is a relatively new flag.
With Canada under both British and French rule, earlier flags incorporated the flags of the province rulers. When Canada became the Canadian Confederation in 1867, its flag continued to integrate the United Kingdom’s Union Jack, which was featured in the top left corner. The red flag also featured maple leafs and a combination of the shield of arms for Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Years went by with many provinces arguing over the look of the official flag. To avoid angering the different regions and governments of Canada, the use of a maple leaf was chosen, as it did not borrow from any particular confederation’s symbol and was considered neutral.
Queen Elizabeth II officially proclaimed the red and white flag we know today as the official flag on Jan. 28, 1965.
The blue and white flag of Greece was originally introduced in 1822, but wasn't named the country’s national flag until Dec. 22, 1978.
Following Greek mythology, some say the nine stripes are meant to symbolize the nine Muses.
Another traditional tale has it that the nine stripes stand for the Greek word for “freedom,” while a varied version finds the five blue and four white stripes representing “freedom or death.”
Even the colors have their own interpretation, as some believe the blue and white represent the blue and white sky and seas found in this Mediterranean country.