Tattoos are a fun and colorful way to express ourselves. Many people decide to get a tattoo as a way to memorialize a tragic event in their life or get them just because they think it looks cool. While many tattoos don’t have meaning behind them for the individual who got the ink, tattoos can have a variety of meanings.
Before you go out to get that tat, it’s good to look into tattoo meanings to know just what kind of message your tattoo is going to put forth or to find the very best way to get your message across; therefore, I have compiled a list of many common tattoos and their meanings!
Koi fish: Common part of Japanese culture, koi fish have many meanings depending on color and position. A koi going upstream symbolizes a struggle or an obstacle. A koi going downstream either means you’ve overcome your struggle or do not yet have the strength or ability to face it. Black: Obstacle has been overcome, or symbol for father. Blue: Masculine fertility, or symbol for son. Gold (yellow/orange): Good fortune. Red: Unconditional love, or symbol for mother (pink for daughter).
Spider: Symbol of creativity and patience
Spider web: Depending on location and the presence of spiders, it can be a symbol of time served in prison, types of crimes committed, and an overall meaning of rebellion.
Dove: Peace and unconditional love.
Swallows: These birds are a symbol of return. It is believed that when a sailor dies, these birds help the soul back to heaven.
Hummingbird: Love, joy, and happiness.
Raven: Represents a messenger about fate, also seen as a symbol of luck in Greek Mythology.
Bee: Sign of loyalty (as the worker bees are to the Queen and hive), hard work, and family.
Scorpion: Symbol of control, potency, strength, death, and defensiveness.
Snake: A symbol of power and potency. Most commonly tattooed in a defensive position, it is said that these ward off negative things that might get in your way.
Butterfly: A beautiful symbol of change, butterflies represent a person going through a personal metamorphosis and is also seen as a symbol of the person’s soul.
Wolf: Depending on culture or religion, wolves are seen as a symbol as protection, or as a symbol of destruction and greed.
Lion: Representing strength, courage, bravery, and protection.
Owl: A symbol of wisdom, protection, and spirituality.
Eagle: National bird for many countries, representing power and freedom.
Octopus: A symbol of mystery, diversity, and complexity.
Dolphin: Seen as a symbol of wisdom, luck, and love.
Paw print: Depends on the type of paw: Bear prints are a symbol of strength while a dog paw is a symbol of light-heartedness and loyalty.
Tree: Symbol of life and longevity. Large root systems symbolize a good support system, and a bud on a tree stands for a new beginning.
Tree of life: Symbolizes a deep connection with Mother Earth. An abundance of life, a fruitful existence.
Dead tree: Symbolization of a loved one lost, sorrow, mourning.
Sun: Symbol of the giver of life, nature, and nurture.
Rainbow: Good fortune, representation of the beauty that comes after the storm or a struggle.
Rose: Natural beauty and fertility.
Dandelion: A symbol of wishes and dreams, letting go of what’s not in your control.
Lotus: A symbol of the sun or the moon.
Clover: Symbol of good luck.
Dragon: In Asia, dragons are a symbol of power and longevity. In Europe, they are seen as something to be feared.
Geisha: Symbolized mystery, beauty, and feminine power.
Buddha: Spirituality, heightened consciousness, and loyalty.
Medusa: Feminine power and strength.
Samurai: Popular in Japanese culture, these symbolize masculinity, courage, discipline and strength.
Grim Reaper: Symbol of death.
Phoenix: Mythological symbol of rebirth.
Unicorn: Symbol of purity and chastity.
Angel: Guardians and protectors. Can also memorialize the loss of a loved one.
Devil: A symbol of sin and resistance to religion. Rebellion.
Ship: A symbol of experience, often a choice of sailors. It can also symbolize love of water over land or a new journey in life.
Pirate Ship: A symbol of journey through life, over both rough and smooth seas, encountering battles and overcoming obstacles. Also a sign of rebellion.
Hot air balloon: Uplifting, happy feelings. Freedom and inspiration.
Tardis: Time travel. A tribute to the show Doctor Who.
Compass: A symbol of guidance and direction in life.
Star: Wonder and inspiration
Om(aum): Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Heightened consciousness.
Fleur de lis: A symbol of royalty, protection, and life.
Skull: Symbol of death.
Barcode: Uniformity, a number in society.
Wing: If whole, represents freedom, if broken or clipped, represents restriction. A pair of wings can symbolize the loss of a loved one.
Key: Opportunity awaiting.
Yin Yang: Total balance and harmony.
Infinity: Limitless and everlasting.
Feather: Symbol of rebirth, creativity, and personal freedom.
Cross: Symbol of salvation and sacrifice.
Heart: Whole heart represents love, torn heart symbolizes love lost.
Teardrop: Under the right eye means you’ve taken a life, under the left eye means that you’ve lost a life, someone close to you. Common prison tattoo.
Clock/pocket watch: A symbol of time, which can symbolize any time depending on the positioning of the hands. Commonly symbolizes an important past event, life, or death.
Hourglass: Another symbol of time, but limited time. It can also symbolize the shape of the female body or the end of life or a life event nearing. A broken hourglass can represent anger or denial of an approaching death.
Dagger: Often a symbol of lost love or betrayal. It can also symbolize breaking free from a bad or harmful situation, courage.
Chain: A symbol of slavery or being “stuck.” If the chain is broken, it’s a symbol of freedom.
Barbed wire: Often a prison tattoo representing time served by the number of barbs on the wire. Also a symbol of an unapproachable person.
Lighthouse: A light on a path of uncertainty. Symbolizes warning, caution, home, and protection.
Gun: Symbol of rebellion, protection and personal freedom.
Umbrella: Protection, shelter, and often accompanied by raindrops or symbolic quotes about rain.
Nuclear mushroom: A symbol of mass-destruction or the end of days. Also symbolizes war and carelessness.
Eye: Symbol of self-protection, always watching and aware of your surroundings.
Designing Your Tattoo
Now, if you are getting one of the types of tattoos above, it doesn’t have to have the meaning that is commonly tied to it. Many people get tattoos that have a personal meaning outside of the norm.
Designs can be tweaked in so many different ways that meanings are totally altered altogether. It all depends on the individual and what they are trying to express. I always say that I don’t care what people think about my tattoos because I know that they mean to me, and that’s what should matter since you’re the one wearing them!
Body art is a beautiful form of personal expression, and knowing about the various tattoo meanings can really help you put together a cool and unique piece!