Where does Jack come from in the Union Jack?

The national flag of the UK is called both the Union Flag but more oftenly called the Union Jack. But what or whom does “Jack” actually refer to and where did it originate? This has been a long debate for many years.

Well the ‘Union’ part is pretty straightforward and is not debated. It refers to the political union of England, Scotland and Ireland by combining the patron saints St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick respectively.

The “Jack” part is where the confusion and debate set in. Back in 1634 Charles I refers to the flag as the “Union Flagge”, then during the Peace Treaty with the Dutch in 1674, Charles II refers to the flag as “His Majesty of Great Britain’s flag or Jack”, and then in 1707 Queen Anne calls it “Our Jack, commonly called the Union Jack". No wonder there is confusion.

One theory is that “Jack” came from the surcoats that knights and army footmen wore as it carried the symbol representing their nationality. These were called “Jacque” which is where the term “jacket” comes from.

Another theory is it has to do with ships. While on sea, English and Scottish merchant and warships often flew the flag on the Jack staff of the ship which is located on the front of the ship. Some therefore believe that it can only be referred to as Union Jack when it is on sea.

Then there are others who believes it is named after King James I of England/James VI of Scotland. In 1606 he established the flag in a royal decree and was the one who originated the first union in 1603. But some just go on the sheer evidence that the term ‘Union Flag was printed first in 1606 and ‘Union Jack’ followed in 1674 therefore is not the true name but rather a nickname.

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