Meanings Behind the Most Popular Tattoos

Published: 19th March 2009
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Throughout history symbolism has play an important part in how we communicate with each other. In the beginning it was a form of speech, a way to record history or even used to ward off evil spirits or to bring luck. Nowadays we each have our own symbols that have deep meanings to us and those around us, and one way to display our symbols is to have them etched on our bodies.

Some symbols in tattoos are more popular than others, for various reasons. Most of the time a symbol is popular because has many different meanings, instead of just a few. This allows all types of people to adopt the symbol and associate with it their own meaning. Other symbols are popular because they are associated with a certain social group, or they mark an important event.

When you are choosing a tattoo symbol, it is important that you fully understand its various meanings in case one of them is unwanted. For example, what if you really liked the symbol of two stylized lightning bolts, but then found out that it was associated with the German Nazi SS troops and biker gangs? You may want to reconsider this symbol.

Significant research is recommended before you decide on your tattoo symbol to ensure that it puts across the right meaning. Luckily the Internet is a great research tool, and you will be able to find thousands of symbols and their meanings.

Below is an example of some of the most popular types of tattoo symbols.

Religious Symbols

There are thousands of religious symbols out there, so if you practice a certain faith, or just want a tattoo that projects a particular feeling then you should have no problem finding a symbol that communicates how you feel. If you are choosing a symbol outside of your faith you will want to research its meaning fully before you go ahead.

Examples of religious symbols include: crosses (there are hundreds of different types), Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, Star of David, angels, Buddha, Hindu gods (Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma), Wiccan or Pagan symbols, etc.

Cemetery Symbols

Usually any symbol that is associated with death is to remind one of a loved one that was lost, and commemorates their memory. There are many symbols though that can also represent rebirth and change.

Examples of cemetery symbols include: angels, Acanthus leaf, ankh, Celtic cross, dove, Laurel leaves, grapes, Ivy, Lily, obelisk, rose, urn, wreath, tombstones, bible, grim reaper, skull and crossed bones, star, moon, lamb, hands in prayer, etc.

Astrological / Zodiac Symbols

There are many people out there who believe that the alignment of the moon, planets and stars have a bearing on our fate and personality, which is why these symbols are so popular. Some choose to have another person's astrological or zodiac symbol tattooed on them to show that they are forever linked with each other.

The twelve classic Astrological signs are: Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius.

The twelve Chinese Zodiac signs are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig

There are many other kinds of symbols that can have a significant meaning to a person, such as certain planets, the sun or moon.

Flower Symbols

Nearly every flower on earth has its own symbolism. Usually the meaning arose from that particular flower's association in a fable, myth, or its adaptation by a monarch or ruler. Each flower can have ten different meanings, and the meanings can change depending on what color the flower is. Here are a few examples of popular flower tattoos and their meanings:

-Rose: love, purity, survival, jealousy

-Lotus Flower / Water Lily: rebirth, good fortune, enlightenment

-Lily: faith, innocence, purity, afterlife

-Violet: modesty and simplicity

Ancient Symbols

Tattooing would have never begun if ancient people's hadn't decided that certain symbols guarded against evil and brought good luck. They thought to permanently mark their skin with these symbols to ensure that they were always safe and protected. Thus these ancient symbols have preserved over thousands of years and are still popular.

Egyptian hieroglyphs are exotic, interesting and bring a touch of history to your tattoo. Many symbols that you see today have evolved from Egyptian hieroglyphs, and many others still exist in their original form.

Those who are from Irish or Scottish descent usually prefer Celtic symbols to illustrate their affinity for their homeland. Fortunately, the Celts designed and perfect many beautiful symbols that are perfect for tattoo design, including the Celtic knot and Celtic cross.

Likewise, those from African ancestry may like to research the many Adinkra or West African symbols that have evolved. These simplistic designs illustrate the beauty of the country and help the wearer to stay in touch with their roots. The same applies to Native Americans and their descendants, who have a host of beautiful and rich symbols to choose from, including many powerful animal totems that can provide guidance and protection.

There are many symbols that evolved because of the wearer's job, instead of their country of origin. No wear is this truer than with sailors, who over time have developed a 'code' of tattoo language with their various symbols which include anchors, mermaids, nautical stars and compasses.

Finally, many who want to pay homage to their ancestors are doing research on their clan's coat of arms. Many historical databases provide pictures and histories for just about any family name as well as any symbols they may have used.

Pride Symbols

There used to be a time where being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or having some kind of fixation wasn't something to celebrate, but in today's accepting society there is nothing preventing you from displaying pride in your sexual orientation.

Most of us are familiar with the rainbow or rainbow flag symbol, but do you know what it stands for? There are six colors on the flag and each of them has their own meaning: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, blue for harmony and purple for spirit.

Other pride symbols include the pink or black triangle, Labrys (double-bladed ax), Leather Pride Flag, Lamda, Bear Pride Flag, Bear Brotherhood Flag, Purple Rhino, freedom rings, Bisexual Pride Flag, Transgender symbol, Bisexual Symbol, red ribbon, etc.

Chinese / Kanji Characters

There are thousands of Chinese and Kanji characters that have their own specific meaning such as luck, happiness, abundance, wealth, fertility and so on. Not only are these signs beautiful to the eye, they convey a meaning to the wearer.

Symbols of Hate

As much as we would like to believe that tattoos are meant to send positive messages, sometimes groups adopt a symbol to mean the opposite. It is important to ensure that the symbol you choose does not associate you with a group or sect like the KKK, neo-nazis or prison gangs. Most of know the obvious signs such as swastikas but there are other symbols that you may not know of that have negative connotations.

Whatever symbol you choose, it is going to be with you forever, so choose carefully and make sure you are 100% comfortable with your choice before you proceed.


Tattoos Designs submitted by tattoo artists and fans. Find tattoo flash, articles and the meanings of tattoos. Visit our tattoo blog for lots of fun stuff. For details http://www.museumoftattoos.com



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