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French Flags and Official Symbols

French flags

The French Royal Flag 

The French royal flag is usually three fleur-de-lis on a field of blue or white (white was the color of the Bourbon dynasty), although there are many variations.  

Royal flags

The French Flag aka Le Tricolore 

The French flag, aka Le Tricolore, is the official flag of the French Republic (and I doubt anyone here wouldn’t recognize this one). Created during the French Revolution, it combines the red and blue colors of Paris and the white of the Bourbon dynasty of French kings (according to legend it was General Lafayette who added the white, still hoping for a constitutional monarchy for France).

French flag tricolor

The European Union Flag

The EU flag with 12 stars representing the European people in a circle of unity (it doesn’t represent the number of countries, it will not change, 12 being the “symbol of completeness and perfection” according to the Council of Europe.

European flag

Every French region has its own flag, here are three you see often in Paris

The Brittany Flag

The Brittany flag, known as the Gwenn-ha-du which means “black and white” in Breton, their regional language (Celtic origins). Some Americans see this at crêpe stands (crêpes being a Breton specialty) and mistake it for some kind of anti-American flag. That’s not such an absurd assumption, since it was created in 1923 using both the American and the black and white Greek flags as inspiration, the two countries which symbolized liberty and democracy.

Brittany flag

The Corsican Flag

The Corsican flag is another one that Americans mistake for some sort of terrorist or freedom fighter flag (you usually see it in Paris at Corsican food stands in the market). It’s a testa di Moru, or black Moor’s Head with a white bandana, the official emblem of Corsican independence in 1755, but dating back to the Middle Ages when the Kings of Aragon claimed Corsica as their own. Some think it originally represented Saint Maurice, a black Egyptian saint.

Flag of Corsica

The Normandy Flag

The Normandy flag is a heraldic flag with two gold leopards on a red background, aka p’tits cats in Norman parlance. People often mistake them for lions.

Normandie Flag

Other Symbols you see throughout Paris

The Cocarde Tricolore

The Cocard Tricolor is the circle badge of red white and blue rings that represents the French Republic. It was created during the French revolution; the flag actually comes from this symbol, which the Revolutionaries wore on their Phrygian caps. Today you see it on the façade of many government buildings like the Quai d’Orsay, on cars of government officials, and on the sash of Miss France.

Cocard

The Seal of the City of Paris

The Seal of the City of Paris is a coat of arms dating back to the 14th century when it represented the powerful shipping union of Paris. The city motto is Fluctuat nec mergitur (“She is tossed by the waves, but never sinks”). You can see the royal French fleur-de-lis on the top (briefly removed after the Revolution then returned for historic reasons), and in the fancy version you have below the boat the medals of the Legion of Honor (1900), the Croix de Guerre (1914-1918), and the Cross of the Liberation (1945). The seal is used by the Mairie de Paris (City Hall) as well as all municipal services. “RF” stands for République Française.

Paris Coat of Arms

The Préfecture de Paris

The Préfecture de Paris, or Paris Police Prefecture are the National Police responsible for Paris and the immediate suburbs. They have integrated the seal of Paris into their badge. The back-to-back P’s are not that different from a famous hotel in New York.

Paris Police

Marianne and the République Française

Marianne and the République Française is the national government symbol, usually seen on any official documents. Marianne is a female figure representing France, and the national motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité stands for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  

Republic of France

The Croix de Lorraine

The Croix de Lorraine is the cross dating back to the Knights of Templar which was used by the soldiers of the Free French Forces of the Résistance during World War II.

Flag of Free France

The Monaco Flag

The Monaco flag confuses a few people. The Principality surrounded by France just off the Mediterannean has an official red and white flag, but also a 13th-century coat of arms representing the ruling Grimaldi dynasty with the red and white diamond pattern. They have their own Monegasque license plate with just four numbers.

Grimaldi Coat of Arms

French License Plates

French license plates are much bigger, and have changed much over the past 20 years to confirm to European standards. On the left you have the F for France and the European flag, then two letters, three numbers, and two more letters, then the number of your department (Paris is 75) and either the symbol of your region (Paris is in Ile de France) or a symbol of your choice, like the Seal of Paris or the PSG symbol (Paris Saint Garmain is the local football/soccer team). Beneath the license plates you can see some of the numbers and symbol for each region, including the now totally recognizable Corsican and Brittany symbols.

French License Plates

For all of you who are intrigued by the different flags, I highly recommend the TedTalk video “The Worst Designed Thing You’ve Never Noticed” by Roman Mars of 99% Invisible radion show and podcast. 

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  • You wrote that the Corsican flag is one that "Americans mistake the Corsican flag for some sort of terrorist or freedom fighter flag." But, you are confused. It is not Americans who make this mistake, it is IDIOTS who make this mistake, and, granted, some of them may be Americans. But, there are ignorant people all around the world.The charges on the flag of Normandy are indeed lions. Early heralds were confused as the difference between the animals we know as lions and leopards. However, they did eventually get it sorted out. However, a convention arose that dictated the animal draw a lion in the posture of being "rampant," and to draw a leopard in the posture of "passant gardant." However, the two animals looked the same except for the way their posture. (Neither was ever spotted.) When more than one lion appeared on a coat of arms they were usually represented in profile and "passant," and were heraldically called "lions-leoparde." By the same token, if the animal is passant regardant then it is called "leopard-lionné." But, all this describes the posture of the animal and not the genus.

  • Hi Emily, Thanks for the heads up, will change it to "surrounded by France" ! (Note for those who are curious: although they are still dependent on the French military for protection, in 2002 a new treaty guaranteed their independence even if there was no heir to the Grimaldi dynasty).

  • Very interesting, thank you. But you make it sound as if Monaco is a semi-autonomous part of France! It is, of course, an independent nation which happens to be surrounded only by France and the sea. You might see its flag at the Monegasque embassy.

  • Thanks for the note Chris, I'm sure I would have mistaken that flag for an Italien one…once I'm outside France I'm a total cultural idiot, lol! Forgot about the Basque flag, will post that in a follow-up post! Regards, Heather

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