Tattooing in one form or another has been practiced for centuries. Originating in Asia, the art of tattooing for religious meaning, cultural tradition or just for appearances has spread worldwide. While some tattoos are chosen because the wearer has an affinity for the artwork, many tattoos have a universal meaning that goes beyond the basic graphic.
The following are a few examples of the meanings of tattoos that have a universal symbolism for wearers, artists and admirers.
The Maori, the native tribe of New Zealand, are known for their distinctive facial tattoos. The tattoos are not restricted to the face, but usually take up a part or even all of the face. The deep grooves and patterns of Ta Moko, the name the Maori give the process of making the tattoos, are a storytelling device. People from the tribe who wear these tattoos are retelling the history of their family. In fact, the tribe considers people that are not Maori, but copy and wear the tattoos, phonies who are performing a form identity theft. If a person wishes to wear tattoos in the style of the Maori, they should seek out an artist who is familiar with the original patterns. An artist experienced with this style of tattoo can create one in the style of the originals without copying exactly.
Chinese Symbols Tattoo
Wearing Chinese symbols has become extremely popular in the Western world, however they are not popular in China. When a Chinese character is used for a tattoo, more often than not it is in the form of traditional Hanzi. The written language of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, Hanzi consists of over 40,000 characters. There is also the option of Simplified Chinese, created to further literacy in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. Although they look like delicate little works of art, each symbol has its own meaning. The most popular Chinese symbols used for tattoos are love, strength and family. People who wish to wear these beautiful tattoos must do their research and make sure they fully understand which character they choose. Although all the characters are beautiful to look at, sometimes a person requests a tattoo with a certain meaning, but for whatever reason, ends up with a tattoo that has a decidedly different meaning.
The teardrop tattoo first appeared in the 1960’s. The meaning of this tattoo can vary depending on how it is drawn. An empty teardrop can symbolize a friend or a loved one that was killed, and now the wearer of the teardrop is looking for revenge. The teardrop is filled in with ink when revenge has been achieved. In prison, the teardrop can also be a warning to other prisoners that the wearer has committed a murder.
The dolphin has been considered a highly social and intelligent animal with a special connection to the human race. Dolphin tattoos can have several meanings. Since dolphins have a playful nature, many times people with the same attitude and personality will get the tattoo to represent themselves. The dolphin can also represent being free or achieving a dream. Another common meaning of this tattoo relates to the mammal having a dual nature. It is from the sea but it breathes air and a dolphin tattoo wearer may be representing their own dual nature with their tattoo.
The butterfly is an image that often represents change or a metamorphosis. A caterpillar changes into a butterfly and very likely the wearer of a butterfly tattoo has gone through a transition or a transformation. The butterfly can demonstrate a literal change, such as growing from a child to an adult, or a symbolic one, such as persevering through a difficult time.
The rose tattoo is a complex and has many different meanings depending on the color and style of the artwork. Worn by both men and women, the rose can mean love or inner and outer beauty. Thorns added to the rose may serve as a reminder that beauty is only skin deep. A single rose with thorns can mean the pain a person had to go through to achieve true love. A rose that is black will mean love lost or even a memorial. White roses represent innocence and yellow can mean faith and hope.
Like the rose, the meaning of the clown tattoo changes depending on how it is drawn. Clowns can be happy, sad, evil and jesters. While the clown tattoos can be straightforward, they can also represent humor, sadness and uncertainty. These tattoos are sometimes worn by gang members with a laugh now and cry later or a play now and pay later meaning behind the clown image.
Richly symbolic in literature and mythology, the phoenix rising out of the ashes is a straightforward image in tattoo art. Resurrection, rebirth and reaching a new height is what the phoenix means in any context. When choosing the image of the phoenix, people tend to choose the phoenix in the process of rising up from the ashes.
The star tattoo is one of the oldest, and it has behind it a rich history of meaning. To the sailors who sported the tattoo in the past, nautical stars represented safely navigating home. It has similar meanings now. The tattoo is popular with people in the armed forces and represents returning home safely. Another very different meaning for this tattoo belongs to prison culture. Each point on the star represents a year that a person has spent behind bars.
While there are commonly found meanings in tattoos, it is also necessary to note that sometimes the meanings of tattoos are nothing more than someone liked the way it looked in the book. As any person who sports a tattoo will agree, sometimes a rose is just a rose.
Wolves are seen as symbols of courage, loyalty and strength in Native American culture. The Romans and the Greeks considered the wolf a sacred animal and a sign of power. It is essential to note that the wolf is viewed as a bad omen in the Celtic and Chinese cultures.
The dove is one of those images that has a historic meaning that goes back for centuries. On its own, the dove represents peace. When two doves are pictured together, they can symbolize two people in a loving relationship. To demonstrate a fresh start or a rebirth, often a single dove with a palm branch will be used for the tattoo.
The signs of the zodiac are used in tattoos when people identify with the attributes associated with their sign. There are positive and negative qualities, images, and colors associated with each of the 12 signs that can be incorporated into an individual’s zodiac tattoo.
Images of the sun are found throughout many different cultures going back to ancient times. Seen universally as a giver of life, a few of the many meanings behind the sun tattoo are strength, endurance, fertility, and rebirth. The sun can be drawn in several different styles depending on if it is representing a specific tribe or not. When the sun and the moon are drawn together, the meaning of the tattoo changes and it becomes feminine. Together, the sun and moon represent a man and a woman who are joined to each other spiritually.
While the peace sign is a highly recognizable symbol, there are many ways that people who wear it can add variety to it and make it a more personal image. People with friends or family in the military will add a yellow ribbon or dog tags to signify their military connection. A peace sign can also represent that a person who is going through a rocky transformation or a tumultuous time is keeping their mind focused on the goal. Drawing around the peace sign or within the peace sign also turns the symbol into something more meaningful. Often people will request the flag of a country or a dove to make the picture more meaningful.
The tiger has often been considered the leader, or the king, of the animal kingdom. When a person chooses a tiger for their tattoo, they are using the image to convey strength and power. Tigers can also mean pride, beauty, passion, violence, and in some cultures, punishment for those who have done something wrong. The Japanese samurai use the tiger as their primary emblem for all of the same reasons that people choose to have the tiger tattoo. People who are interested in the tiger tattoo should bear in mind that white tigers are only the result of inbreeding, and thus all white tigers are born with handicaps of some sort. This information should be considered by anyone who wishes to have a white tiger tattoo instead of a standard tiger. Siberian tigers can reach a length of over ten feet and represent the greatest power among all the images of the tiger.
The octopus tattoo has a significant meaning to those who choose to wear one. Famous for being able to regenerate a lost limb, the octopus can represent a trauma that a person has successfully triumphed over in their past. Many cultures consider the number eight a mystical number, because it is the symbol for infinity. The octopus has eight legs and becomes sacred when it represents the nature of the sacred number.
The heart tattoo is one of the more famous images, and it is a longtime favorite for tattoo enthusiasts. At the turn of the century sailors often sported the tattoo with the name of a girlfriend, wife, or their mother as a lucky charm. The most obvious current meaning of this tattoo is love. Wisely or unwisely, it is often used to represent a romantic relationship when names are written on or around it. More obscure meanings include representation of the soul or the spiritual center.
Kokopelli was worshiped by Native Americans and can have a variety of meanings depending on the tribe. Commonly, the god is considered a representative of fertility and agriculture, and the overall theme is renewal and growth. He is also associated with tricks and has a fun loving persona. When Kokopelli is drawn, he is often holding what some believe is a flute and others say is a blowgun.
The rose may be in a category by itself, but many flowers have their own meanings when they are represented in a tattoo.
- Pansy – Seen as the flower of remembrance and togetherness, this flower can be used when a tattoo is meant to be a memorial of a friend or loved one.
- Cherry Blossom – Known mostly as a feminine tattoo, the cherry blossom represents beauty and love in China, and how brief life is in Japan.
- Lily – The lily has many different meanings, and depending on the origins, it can actually have opposite definitions. In ancient Egypt, the lily symbolized fertility. In medieval times it was a sign of purity. The tiger lily often represents pride or wealth, and the calla lily can be an image that represents physical beauty. The orange lily can mean hate or anger.
- Daisy – This is another flower that is closely associated with women and is more common for a woman to wear. They are usually drawn delicately and are small. The daisy represents purity, innocence in and loyalty in a romantic relationship.
- Sunflower – A large and bright flower, the sunflower is usually drawn as it is in real life. It can often represent loyalty and strong admiration.