Union Flag: what does it mean when it’s upside down, how to tell, when is it called the Union Jack?

Could you be flying your Union Jack flag the wrong way round?

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The King’s coronation might have tempted to dust down your patriotic bunting or even the Union Jack.

But while you might be tempted to fly the flag or decorate your home, especially if there is a street part on your road, you will want to make sure that you have got it the right way round. You don’t want to risk a faux pas by having your Union Flag the upside down.

However you might be wondering how you can tell if you have the flag the right way round. You may also be wondering what the correct name for the flag actually is.

The coronation of King Charles III will take place at Westminster Abbey from 11am on Saturday (6 May). It will be televised by the BBC, ITV and Sky News.

But how can you tell if your union flag is upside down?

What does it mean when the Union Flag is upside down?

 A man in a Union flag suit. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images) A man in a Union flag suit. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A man in a Union flag suit. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Forces.net reports that it is often said that flying the Union Flag upside down is a sign of distress. It can also be considered an insult, even if it is an honest mistake and you didn’t mean to fly it the wrong way round.

However spotting if you have the flag the wrong way round can be a tricky one. Even elected MPs can struggle to spot if it is upside down.

In 2017 for a YouGov poll, participants were shown two flags - one upside down - and only 45% were correctly able to identify which flag was the right way round.

How can you tell if it is upside down?

The easy way to tell if you have the flag the right way round is to pay attention to the top corner of the flag - the side closest to the flag pole. It should have the thick white line above the red line and not below it.

Watch the video at the top of the article to see the correct way for the flag to be displayed.

When is the flag called Union Jack?

The flag is often called as both the Union Flag and the Union Jack - but is there a correct way to use these names? According to Forces.net the difference in names is based on where you are flying the flag.

If you are on land, it is believed that you should call it the Union Flag. However if you are at sea then it is the Union Jack.

It is argued that it should be called Union Jack at sea due to the a “jack” being the name for a small flag that is hung over the mast of a boat. It is believed to have derived from the naval term ‘jackstaff’ - which is the small vertical spar (pole) on the bow of a ship, where the Union Jack is usually flown.

However according to Flying Flags, a publicaiton produced by Parliament’s Flags & Heraldry Committee, both names can be used no matter where the flag is flown.