Sailor Speak of the Week – Ensign



  • A national flag.
  • The lowest commissioned officer rank in many navies and coast guards.


16th century. From French, ensigne, and previously, Latin, insignia, meaning badge.


In terms of flags, there are a variety of different types of ensigns. Usually, they denote the nationality of a vessel and are flown from the stern. A naval ensign is usually different from a state’s national flag (standard). Government and/or naval vessels (e.g. U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy) fly specific ensigns as a visual symbol of their authority or naval affiliation.

With regards to the officer’s rank, the term was adopted from army parlance where the ensign was a particular junior officer who carried the regimental colors (flag). Although, such positions and titles have been abolished in some armies. In the English language, ensign is a rank generally associated with navies rather than armies. In many naval services and coast guards, an Ensign (or the equivalent lowest commissioned officer rank) is denoted by a single gold braid on their dress uniforms.


Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport Museum.

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