Tattoos are a fun and colorful way to express ourselves. Many people decide to get one as a way to memorialize an important event in their life or just because they think it looks cool. Although their meaning is decided by the individuals who got the ink, tattoos can have a variety of widespread associations, and it's always interesting to know what others think your tattoo means.
Before you go out to get that tat, it’s good to look into common meanings and associations to know just what kind of message your tattoo is going to put forth and find the very best way to get your message across; therefore, I have compiled this list!
What Do Animal Tattoos Mean?
Koi fish: A common image in Japanese culture, koi fish have many meanings depending on color and position. A koi going upstream signifies 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: An obstacle has been overcome, or a symbol for father. Blue: Masculine fertility or symbol for son. Gold (yellow/orange): Good fortune. Red: Unconditional love, or the symbol for mother (pink for daughter).
Spider: Symbol of creativity and patience.
Spider web: Depending on location and the presence of spiders, it can represent time served in prison, types of crimes committed, or an overall meaning of rebellion.
Dove: Peace and unconditional love.
Swallow: This bird is a symbol of return. It is believed that when a sailor dies, swallows carry the soul back to heaven.
Hummingbird: Love, joy, and happiness.
Raven: Fate's messenger; 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: Control, potency, strength, death, and defensiveness.
Snake: A symbol of power and potency. Most commonly inked in the coiled position, it is said that snakes 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 also seen to symbolize a person’s soul.
Wolf: Depending on culture or religion, wolves are seen as a symbol of protection or of destruction and greed.
Lion: Representing strength, courage, bravery, and protection.
Owl: Wisdom, protection, and spirituality.
Eagle: National bird for many countries, representing power and freedom.
Octopus: Mystery, diversity, and complexity.
Dolphin: Wisdom, luck, and love.
Paw print: Depends on the type of paw: Bear prints represent strength while a dog paw is a symbol of light-heartedness and loyalty.
Nature Tattoos Interpreted
Tree: 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, and a fruitful existence.
Dead tree: Commemoration of a loved one lost; sorrow, mourning.
Sun: The giver of life; nature and nurture.
Rainbow: Good fortune, representation of the beauty that comes after a storm or struggle.
Rose: Natural beauty and fertility.
Dandelion: Wishes and dreams, letting go of what’s not in your control.
Lotus: A symbol of the sun or the moon. Divine beauty, the expansion of the soul, and spiritual awakening.
Clover: Good luck.
The Meanings of Various People/Creature Tattoos
Dragon: In Asia, dragons are a symbol of power and longevity. In Europe, they are seen as something to be feared.
Geisha: 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: Purity and chastity.
Angel: Guardians and protectors. Can also memorialize the loss of a loved one.
Devil: Sin, resistance to religion, and rebellion.
Which Tattoos Represent Travel?
Ship: A symbol of experience, often a choice of sailors. It can also represent a love of water over land or a new journey in life.
Pirate ship: A symbol of one's 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: Guidance and direction in life.
Common Symbols Deciphered
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 faceless number.
Wing: If whole, it represents freedom; if broken or clipped, restriction. A pair of wings can represent 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: 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 the life of someone close to you. Common prison tattoo.
Clock/pocket watch: Time, which can symbolize any time depending on the positioning of the hands. Commonly represents an important past event, life, or death.
Hourglass: Another symbol of time, but limited time. It can also represent 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: Lost love or betrayal. It can also symbolize breaking free from a bad or harmful situation, or courage.
Chain: 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. Warning, caution, home, and protection.
Gun: Rebellion, threat, protection, and personal freedom.
Umbrella: Protection, shelter, and often accompanied by raindrops or symbolic quotes about rain.
Nuclear mushroom cloud: Mass-destruction, the end of days, war, and carelessness.
Eye: Self-protection, always watching and aware of your surroundings.
Designing Your Tattoo
Now, if you are getting one of the designs mentioned 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 meanings and associations can really help you put together a cool and unique piece!
Patricia on June 07, 2020:
I found a great lion tattoo on Pinterest, it was on a lady’s back the head with some flowers around it.
I have had to draw on my strength courage , bravery, the past 18 months and feel this is the perfect tattoo for me.
My partner thought it was because he is a Leo but when I explained why he totally understood and agreed.
kellyks on August 22, 2017:
Yes indeed! Tats are pretty common these days and most of the people get it made no matter what age they are.
Tattoos are basically a way of self-expression and a way of communication and they represent so many things for so many people.
These days more and more people are coming up with so many latest designs of tattoos.
Some of them are as listed below:
Baroque Tattoos – these are super latest and very much identical to the lace designs that are worn by women.
Scary Tattoos – the skulls and grim reaper is likely a common choice of tattoos between men.
Scripture Tattoos – these tattoos are directly conveyed by the scripture tattoos as they can be easily read.
Scorpion tattoos – denoting the mystery or the expression of great strength.
Tribal tattoos – denoting the tribe or the ethnicity you belong to.
3d Tattoos – most beautiful tattoos as they look real and if some dangerous creature is made they look horrifying.
Banner tattoos – usually made by people who are from army and navy background. Honor before everything is a common statement.
Surrealism tattoos – dream like or some form of nightmarish tattoo design which is twisted and turned if compared with the reality.
Tibetan tattoos – usually related to religion and spiritualism, these tattoos are common as well as have a very deeper meaning
Trash polka tattoos – another horrific kind of tattoo, known as the combination of abstract and nature, past and present.
These were few of the designs that I have come across and are really loved and adored for the creativity.
Though you might have to endure a gruesome pain in making the same but I am sure it will all be worth the effort and money.
Well also a lot depends on the placing of the tattoo as well as the creativity of your tattoo artist.
Lorna Dee on February 17, 2017:
I just wanted to ask I scrolled through this article quickly and I did not see anything about a feather tatt...if anyone can tell me about a feather Ratt located under a man's left eye...im curious if it is just a random thing or if it has some meaning behind it let me know thanks
KonaGirl from New York on February 01, 2016:
I had no idea there was so much going on behind each ink drawing. I love the dragon tattoo! I have always wanted one across my back but could never afford it. Whoever did it did a great job.