ENSIGN. An ensign is the lowest commissioned rank in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Ensign comes from the Latin word insignia, lending the ensign the duty of carrying emblems or banners. In British service, until 1871, an ensign carried the colors as the lowest commissioned officer of infantry. In the United States ensigns existed in the colonial militia, in the Revolution infantry, and in the regular army until 1815, as a rank lower than first, second, or third lieutenant. In the navy the rank of ensign superseded that of midshipman in 1862.
Moskos, Charles C. The American Enlisted Man: The Rank and File in Today's Military. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1970.
en·sign • n. 1. / ˈensən; ˈenˌsīn/ a flag or standard, esp. a military or naval one indicating nationality.2. / ˈensən/ a commissioned officer of the lowest rank in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, ranking above chief warrant officer and below lieutenant. ∎ hist. the lowest rank of commissioned infantry officer in the British army. ∎ hist. a standard-bearer.