ENSIGN (through the Fr. enseigne from the Latin plural insignia), a distinguishing token, emblem or badge such as symbols of office, or in heraldry, the ornament or sign, such as the crown, coronet or mitre borne above the charge or arms. The word is more particularly used of a military or naval standard or banner. In the British navy, ensign has a specific meaning, and is the name of a flag having a red, white or blue ground, with the Union Jack in the upper corner next the staff. The white ensign (which is sometimes further distinguished by having the St George's Cross quartered upon it) is only used in the royal navy and the royal yacht squadron, while the blue and red ensigns are the badges of the naval reserve, some privileged companies, and the merchant service respectively (see Flag). Until 1871 the lowest grade of commissioned officers in infantry regiments of the British army had the title of ensign (now replaced by that of second lieutenant). It is the duty of the officers of this rank to carry the colours of the regiment (see Colours, Military). In the 16th century ensign was corrupted into "ancient," and was used in the two senses of a banner and the bearer of the banner. In the United States navy, the title ensign superseded in 1862 that of passed midshipman. It designates an officer ranking with second lieutenant in the army.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)