Although the original purpose of the pirate flag is unknown, it may have been designed to strike fear into the hearts of potential victims, and encourage a speedy surrender. The mere sight of the black and white flag probably sent chills down the spines of many a captain and crew; although the black flag was not as greatly feared as the red flag. The sight of a red flag meant that no mercy would be shown in battle.
Each pirate captain had a differently designed Jolly Roger (pirate flag). Often, the flags would show symbols of death and destruction. The name "Jolly Roger" is thought to have originated from a nickname for the devil, "Old Roger". However, it is more likely to have gotten its name from the French word for "pretty red", "Jolie Rouge". The classic design, skull and crossbones, was used to indicate in the captain's log the death of a sailor. It is suggested by experts that this is origin of the actual appearance of the Jolly Roger.