What Are The Different Names For The American Flag?

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the 13 American colonies’ independence from the British monarchy. A little less than a year later, on June 14, 1777, Congress passed a resolution declaring the flag of the United States “be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” In commemoration of this act, Americans celebrate Flag Day on June 14 every year.

In the nearly 250 years since the Flag Resolution of 1777, 37 stars have been added to the flag, one for each new state. Over the course of that history, the flag of the United States of America has earned a number of vivid nicknames, not to mention the fact “flag of the United States of America” is quite a mouthful.

You don’t have to be a vexillologist or a red-blooded ‘Murican to find these monikers for the flag of the United States fascinating.

American flag

Formally, the flag is called “the flag of the United States of America.” But almost no one calls it that—unless they’re saying the Pledge of Allegiance. More often than not, it’s referred to as the American flag.

Believe it or not, American flag can technically be considered a nickname for, well, the American flag. This natural shortening is found in the early days of the American republic, evidenced by at least 1778 in the long-running Scots Magazine.

The Stars and Stripes

The original design of the American flag is based off the so-called Grand Union Flag, also known as the Continental Colors Flag. The Grand Union Flag had 13 red and white stripes, but instead of stars in the upper right-hand corner, it showed the Union Jack (the flag of Great Britain). The Flag Resolution of 1777 decreed that the Union Jack be replaced with 13 white stars on a blue field, one for each state (13 at the time, of course).

As it’s popularly told, the original design for the American flag—with the stars displayed in a ring—was sewn by Betsy Ross based in part on a sketch by George Washington. Sorry, Betsy, but the story is unsubstantiated. But more likely, it was designed by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, based on an earlier naval design.

Whether it was Ross or Hopkins, since the earliest days, those distinctive stars and stripes were part of what made the flag of the United States unique. Hence the nickname the Stars and Stripes, which dates back to at least 1809.

In 1896, John Philip Sousa composed a march he titled “The Stars and Stripes Forever”—and in 1987 it became the official National March of the US. As its lyrics go: “The red and white and starry blue / is freedom’s shield and hope.”

The Red, White, and Blue

The French flag, the UK flag, and the North Korean flag are all red, white, and blue. But there’s only one flag that goes by the red, white, and blue—and that’s the American flag.

Calling the flag the red, white, and blue brings to mind the 1906 song “You’re a Grand Old Flag” written by George M. Cohan for his musical George Washington Jr. As the song goes: “ev’ry heart beats true, ‘neath the Red, White, and Blue.”the red, white, and blue is mentioned even earlier in another classic march, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” composed by Thomas A’Becket Sr., circa 1843. For a long time, the song was a kind of unofficial anthem for the United States.

Today, the nickname red, white, and blue for the American flag is still used in popular songs, including Toby Keith’s 2002 single “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).”

Old Glory

The story of how the American flag became known as Old Glory is one that says a lot about the history of the United States as a nation. Before it became a nickname for the flag of the United States, it was the name given to one specific American flag owned by William Driver, a sea captain from Salem, Massachusetts.

The flag was made for him as a gift by his mother and her sewing circle in Salem to celebrate his appointment to captain in 1824. He flew the flag from the mast of his ship, the Charles Doggett. According to the myth, when he hoisted the flag, he declared: “My ship, my flag, Old Glory.” While that probably didn’t happen, it’s true Driver called the flag Old Glory in his memoirs in 1862.

But that wasn’t the end of the story of Old Glory. In 1837, Driver moved to Nashville and flew his enormous flag every day on a line strung between his attic and a tree in his lawn. During the Civil War, Confederate and Union troops sparred over the flag—and ultimately it flew over the Tennessee capitol building.

Today, the original Old Glory is held at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. And by the 20th century, the name Old Glory had become synonymous with the American flag in general.

The Star-Spangled Banner

In 1805, amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote a song to commemorate the American battle in Tripoli during the First Barbary War. The song was set to “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a kind of drinking song of an 18th-century London gentleman’s club, and included the lines: “And pale beamed the crescent, its splendor obscured / By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation.”

Key would reuse that star-spangled line when he penned “Defence of Fort M’Henry” in 1814 while witnessing the fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812: “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave/o’er the land of the free & the home of the brave.” That poem, also set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” became the official national anthem of the United States in 1931. You know it as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Banner, of course, refers to the flag. Spangled means decorated with brights objects, as stars, hence star-spangled.

The original star-spangled banner—which, as of the Flag Act of 1974, had 15 stars and stripes, for the addition of Vermont and Kentucky into the Union as the 14th and 15th states, respectively—flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore is now kept at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. And star-spangled banner is a nickname for the classic 50-star flag we know and love today.


The American flag has been around, in some form or another, for nearly 250 years. In fact, despite the U.S. Flag Code, the American flag is found in countless forms. It’s on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and truck decals. It’s even an emoji: 🇺🇸.

With early forms found on Japanese cell phones in the early 2000s, flag for the United States of America emoji shows the stars and stripes, the red, white, and blue, the star-spangled banner, and Old Glory in all its…well, glory.

The emoji flag is usually shown slightly waving. Impressively, most platforms manage to squeeze in all thirteen stripes and fifty stars in their representation of the flag. Except for Twitter. Twitter only shows 18 stars, for some reason.

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