From adapting to new geographical boundaries to shifting cultural values, these six countries had excellent reasons to update their flag designs over the years.
Flags are one of the most important symbols of national identity. Not only do they represent entire countries – and the cultures, languages, and communities within them – they also communicate the values and history of a nation.
Just as passports are an ever-evolving national emblem, so too are flags. And while flags can feel like a sacred symbol of a country’s existence, they’re not necessarily set in stone. Countries and territories often update the flag to reflect the times following a change in leadership, borders, or cultural values.
In fact, it happens a lot more than you might think. Here are just a handful of the countries that have modified their flags over the last 150 years:
Flag updated: 2017
Before changing its flag in 2017, the Northwest African nation put the issue to a vote in a national referendum. It was a landslide: 86% voted in favour of changing the flag to incorporate two red stripes (one on the top; the other on the bottom) as a tribute to the country’s hard-fought sovereignty.
Previously, the Mauritanian flag featured a green background with a yellow crescent moon and star, representing the dominant religion of Islam and the Sahara Desert, respectively. The red additions in the updated design symbolize the blood spilled by Mauritanians in the fight against France, which colonized the country until 1958.
Flag updated: 2004
This Balkan nation has seen its mobility score rise steadily over the past five years, primarily due to its booming economy, natural tourist attractions and visa-free agreements within the European Union. As a country on the rise, it’s fitting that the Montenegrin flag is also relatively new – a fresh symbol of sovereignty after decades of Yugoslavian rule.
The government introduced the current national flag in 2004, just two years before Montenegro voted to separate from Serbia and officially declared its independence in 2006. Replacing the old red, white, and blue design – associated with its past as a socialist republic – the new flag is red with golden edges and a historical coat of arms representing the Montenegrin people.
Flag updated: 1965
Red, white, with a maple leaf in the center – Canada’s flag is one of the world’s most recognizable. But it hasn’t been around for as long as one might think. While a colony of Great Britain, Canada used the Union Jack as its flag, then continued to do so well after the Confederation of 1867 (when the Dominion of Canada became a self-governing country within the British Empire).
Ahead of the country’s centennial in the 1960s, the public was ready for a new flag – one that offered distance from its British heritage. In 1964, after six weeks known as “The Great Flag Debate” in the Canadian Parliament, members voted on three final concepts. In the end, the government selected the single maple leaf design, which had been submitted by George Stanley, Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College.
Flag updated: 1957
Hungary has a rich history of migration, and today boasts the world’s sixth most powerful passport, offering its citizens visas on arrival or visa-free access to 139 countries and counting. The country has also redesigned its national flag multiple times since the 12th century.
With its characteristic red, green, and white horizontal tricolor design, today’s Hungarian flag looks remarkably like versions from the 18th and 19th centuries, which featured a coat of arms from the country’s founding dynasty.
The government altered and replaced the coat of arms many times, eventually dropping it from the flag altogether during the Soviet era in 1957. Interestingly, since the flag did not bear any communist insignia, Hungary was one of only three countries that didn’t have to change their flag after the fall of communism in 1989.
Flag updated: 1960
Home to one of the world’s most powerful passports, the United States has long been a symbol of independence, progress and evolution, and the American flag reflects that spirit. In 1777, seamstress Betsy Ross designed the country’s first flag; the pattern showcased 13 red and white stripes – representing the original colonies – and 13 stars in a blue field. The latter symbolized “a new constellation” of lands in the emerging nation.
Over the past 245 years, the American flag has been modified 27 times as new states joined the country. Most recently, the government changed the flag on July 4, 1960, after Hawaii became a US state that year prior.
Flag updated: 1911
For over two centuries, Portugal had a white flag with a royal coat of arms (although there were minor variations) as a tribute to the monarchy’s power, exploration, and expansion. But the flag underwent a drastic makeover after the Portuguese Republican Party overthrew the monarchy on October 5, 1910.
The new government reformed many aspects of society, from enhancing women’s rights to providing basic education, and separating church and state. To commemorate this new era as a republic, the government also overhauled the flag, incorporating the Republican Party’s signature colors of red and green. Today, Portugal is still a European powerhouse, and offers one of the world’s topmost powerful passports.