Q. 98: What Is the Name of the National Anthem?

Photo of baseball team

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

What is the name of the national anthem?

Answer:

The Star-Spangled Banner.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

This answer can surprise some people not from the United States because there are many patriotic songs performed during sporting events and major celebrations. Often, you will hear America the Beautiful as much as the Star-Spangled Banner. So, when did this become the national anthem, why is it so significant, and why did America the Beautiful gain popularity over time?

What Is the National Anthem?

The Star-Spangled Banner is a song that evolved from a war-time poem of 1814. It didn’t become the official national anthem of the nation until 1931. Today, it is sung at major events and sporting occasions, with spectators expected to stand, address the flag, and place their hands over their hearts. Since 1931, other songs have gained popularity, and America The Beautiful is a frontrunner for the unofficial anthem. 

Defense of Fort McHenry

The origin of the national anthem was a poem called Defense of Fort McHenry by Francis Scott Key. Key was a lawyer who had watched the battle unfold at Fort McHenry in 1814. The events and the sight of the flag inspired him to write four verses about the battle and its impact on the country. The poem was then printed in newspapers in the Baltimore area and gained popularity as it was turned into a song.

The original article in the paper instructed readers to sing the lines of the poem to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a much older song whose melody happened to fit with the structure of the poem. This is debatable, as there are lines that are difficult to sing due to the number of syllables. The song has a reputation for being tricky because of its range too. 

Where Does the Star-Spangled Banner Name Come From?

The name Star-Spangled Banner refers to the flag of the United States. There have been many designs of the national flag over the years. When this poem was written, the country was on the second of 27 flag designs. This one had the nickname the Star-Spangled Banner. 

Other flags include the Betsy Ross and Great Star. The Star-Spangled Banner is different from today’s flag as it contained just 15 stars and, oddly, 15 stripes. Today there are the standard 13 stripes, and there are 50 stars representing all the current states.

Regarding the poem, the Star-Spangled Banner was significant because it was flying during the battle observed by Key. The banner was seen as a symbol of strength as it stood proud, making the poem deeply symbolic and patriotic. 

The final lines of the first verse read:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It is no surprise that it later became widely recited and then adopted as the anthem.

When Is the National Anthem Played?

The national anthem is played in many situations to signify national pride and bring people together. It is commonly heard at sporting events, from weekly baseball games to the Super Bowl and WrestleMania. Those large-scale television events allow major music industry names to provide personal renditions. The song’s complexity means that this doesn’t always go well, and some even mess up the lyrics. Similar prestige is placed on the opportunity to sing the song at the inauguration ceremony.

It is also noteworthy that we tend only to hear the song’s first verse at these events. That is more than enough, as the full version is far too long for these events and most performers. There are also questions over the phasing in later verses that are less about the American flag and more about the people. 

What Do You Do When the National Anthem Plays?

There are rules in place for when the national anthem plays. While this isn’t mandatory, and many won’t follow the rules precisely, there are still high expectations. Civilians can get away with not complying with these guidelines a little more than politicians, who may be scrutinized for not giving the moment their full attention or efforts.

Those in the military, especially those in uniform, are expected to face and salute the flag. Everyone else should face the same way with their hand over their heart. If there is no flag present, spectators are expected to face those playing the anthem. Not all attendees at sporting events will sing or put their hands to their chest, but they will likely all stand. 

What Is America the Beautiful? 

The other well-known American song is America The Beautiful. This is a pretty song that details the stunning landscape of the nation “from sea to shining sea.” Again, it comes from a poem that was later set to music. It was written by Katharine Lee Bates, a professor, and adventurer, who took a long journey across America by train. The poem was written in 1893 and later put to music by an organist and choirmaster called Samuel A. Ward in Newark, New Jersey.

Today America The Beautiful is heard almost as often as the Star-Spangled Banner during major events. The national anthem is more essential, but there is an expectation for a recital of both at events like the Super Bowl. The popularity of this song is understandable when you look at the lyrics and the sense of joy and pride they evoke. There is also the fact that the song gained a lot of popularity post-9/11. Something about the song resonated with people, and its use grew further.

Essentially, the United States has one official national anthem and one unofficial one. The Star-Spangled Banner will always be the official national anthem, where we stand and honor the flag and music appropriately. But America The Beautiful isn’t far behind in terms of beloved national songs. 

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