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An ensign is a distinguishing token, emblem, or badge such as symbols of office. In heraldry, it is the ornament or sign, such as the crown, coronet or mitre, borne above the charge or arms. The word is derived from the French enseigne from the Latin plural insignia and is more particularly used of a military or naval standard or banner.

In British nautical use, "ensign" has a specific meaning: it 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 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 also British Naval ensigns.

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. 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In the United States Navy, the title "ensign" superseded in 1862 that of "passed midshipman[?]".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.

(from an old encyclopedia)

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