A Comprehensive Guide to Tattoo Meanings

By: HowStuffWorks
tattoo meanings
Tattoo meanings continue to evolve with changing societal norms and individual interpretations, making them a dynamic art form. Opla / Getty Images

Tattoos are a popular form of self-expression and artistry, allowing individuals to adorn their bodies with meaningful symbols and designs. Whether you're considering getting your first tattoo or adding to your existing collection, it's important to choose a design with a significance that resonates with you. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the meanings behind some of the most popular tattoo designs, from ancient symbols to modern motifs. So, let's dive in and discover the stories behind these captivating tattoos.


All-Seeing Eye Tattoo Meaning

The all-seeing eye is a motif that has its origins in ancient history, but its associations have evolved over time. This symbol can hold different meanings in tattooing:

  • Reference to the gods and their omnipresence, as well as a symbol of divine providence.
  • A representation of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.
  • Due to its connection with Masonic symbolism, the all-seeing eye is also associated with power and control.


Anchor Tattoo Meaning

The anchor has long been a popular tattoo design, known for its simplicity and versatility. Here are a few interpretations of anchor tattoos:

  • A symbol of strength, stability, and loyalty, making it a popular choice for those who value these qualities.
  • In a religious context, the anchor can represent a person's strength in their chosen faith or serve as a reminder to stay grounded in challenging times.
  • It can also symbolize a connection to the sea or a love for maritime life.


Angel Tattoo Meaning

Angels have played a central role in various cultures and mythologies, making them a popular tattoo choice. Here are a few meanings associated with angel tattoos:

  • Angels are often seen as messengers between humankind and the gods, or as beings who act as protectors or guardians.
  • In Christian cultures, angels symbolize faith and spirituality.
  • Many people get an angel tattoo as a way to honor and remember a loved one who has passed away, believing that the angel will watch over them.


Anime/Manga Tattoo Meanings

Anime and manga tattoos have gained popularity in recent years, thanks to the stylistic simplicity of these art forms. Here are a few meanings associated with anime/manga tattoos:

  • People often get anime tattoos as a way to express their love and connection to a specific show or character.
  • Anime tattoos can also symbolize a sense of belonging to a particular cultural group, such as Japanese culture or cosplay enthusiasts.


Arrow Tattoo Meaning

Arrows are simple yet striking images that carry powerful symbolism. Here are some meanings associated with arrow tattoos:

  • In Native American cultures, arrows were essential tools for protection and survival, symbolizing strength and resilience.
  • Arrows can also represent passion, affection, or love in various cultures.
  • For some, arrow tattoos symbolize the strength to find one's way in life, navigating through challenges and obstacles.


Bat Tattoo Meaning

Bats have often been misunderstood and associated with darkness and the occult. However, they also hold positive meanings in some cultures:

  • In China, bats are symbols of good fortune, long life, wealth, and prosperity.
  • Native Americans view bats as symbols of rebirth and associate them with positive spiritual qualities.
  • Bats can also represent the souls of the dead in certain cultures, providing protection and guidance.


Bear Tattoo Meaning

The bear has deep-rooted folklore and symbolism, representing various qualities and characteristics. Here are a few meanings associated with bear tattoos:

  • In Native American cultures, bears are seen as the keepers of dreams and symbols of strength and wisdom.
  • Vikings associated bears with strength and fury, often dressing themselves in bear skins before battle.
  • Bears are also revered as noble creatures and symbols of protection, as they fiercely defend their cubs.


Bee Tattoo Meaning

Bees are universally admired for their hard work and dedication. Here are a few meanings associated with bee tattoos:

  • Bees symbolize hard work, willpower, and resilience.
  • In ancient cultures like the Egyptians, bees were seen as messengers between mortals and gods and represented eloquence and intelligence.
  • Bees can also symbolize the importance of community and teamwork.


Bird Tattoo Meaning

Birds are popular tattoo choices due to their symbolism and aesthetic appeal. Here are a few meanings associated with bird tattoos:

  • Birds are often seen as symbols of freedom, courage, and travel.
  • For some, birds represent liberation from traumatic experiences or overcoming challenging situations.
  • In certain cultures, birds are associated with spirituality and the soul's journey.


Bulldog Tattoo Meaning

Bulldogs hold a special place in English and American cultures, symbolizing national pride, strength, and loyalty. Bulldog tattoos are also commonly associated with sports.

Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

Butterflies have always captivated the imagination, representing transformation and beauty. Here are a few meanings associated with butterfly tattoos:

  • Butterflies symbolize transformation, renewal, and resurrection.
  • In ancient Greek mythology, butterflies were believed to be earthly representations of the soul.
  • Nowadays, butterflies are often chosen for their aesthetic appeal and the wide variety of colors and forms they can take.

Candles Tattoo Meaning

Candles have been a popular choice for tattoos for centuries. Here are a few meanings associated with candle tattoos:

  • Candles are often seen as symbols of finding our way in the dark or as lights in our darkest moments.
  • In ancient times, candles played a crucial role in helping sailors and explorers find their way, making them powerful symbols.
  • Candles have also been associated with religious rites and spirituality.

Cat Tattoo Meaning

Cats have a rich history in folklore and mythology, making them a popular tattoo choice. Here are a few meanings associated with cat tattoos:

  • Cats are often seen as symbols of good luck in various cultures, such as in early sailing traditions.
  • Cats are known for their unique personalities, which can be both mischievous and graceful, appealing to different types of people.
  • Cat tattoos can also serve as a memory for a deceased pet, honoring their presence in our lives.

Church Tattoo Meaning

Church tattoos can hold different meanings depending on the cultural context. In the Russian prison system, a tattoo of a church represents time served and completion of a sentence.

Compass Tattoo Meaning

Compass tattoos are popular motifs that symbolize direction, guidance, and following one's convictions. Sailors often got compass tattoos as a token of good luck and protection during their journeys.

Crow Tattoo Meaning

Crows have a complex symbolism, representing change, transformation, and wisdom. Here are a few meanings associated with crow tattoos:

  • Crows are often depicted as watchful creatures with foresight, symbolizing strong vision and the will to thrive.
  • In Native American cultures, crows are seen as signs of good luck, intelligence, and wisdom.

Dagger Tattoo Meaning

Daggers can hold contradictory meanings in tattooing. Here are a few interpretations:

  • Daggers can symbolize treachery and deception, representing betrayal.
  • They can also be seen as symbols of bravery and the willingness to fight up close in battle.

Dharma Tattoo Meaning

The Dharma Wheel is a sacred symbol in Buddhism, representing the teachings of Buddha. The wheel has different parts, each symbolizing an aspect of Buddhist teachings such as mindfulness, right view, and right speech.

Dove Tattoo Meaning

Doves are often seen as symbols of peace, love, and purity. Here are a few meanings associated with dove tattoos:

  • Doves are traditionally associated with peace and positivity.
  • Couples may get dove tattoos to symbolize their unwavering love and devotion.
  • In religious and mythological contexts, doves represent spiritual messaging and Jesus' message of peace and love.

Dragon Tattoo Meaning

Dragons have captivated human imagination across cultures, representing various qualities and characteristics. Here are a few meanings associated with dragon tattoos:

  • In Asian cultures, dragons symbolize wisdom, strength, and protection.
  • Dragons can also symbolize power, bravery, and transformation.
  • Chinese and Japanese dragons have distinct characteristics, such as the number of claws and the presence of a sphere representing control over the universe.

Eagle Tattoo Meaning

Eagles are symbols of power, dominance, and spirituality. Here are a few meanings associated with eagle tattoos:

  • Eagles are universally seen as symbols of wisdom, power, and spiritual health.
  • In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, eagles were associated with powerful gods.
  • Eagles are also symbols of strength and patriotism in many cultures, such as in the United States.

Eye Tattoo Meaning

Eyes have deep symbolism in various cultures, representing spirituality, wisdom, and protection. Here are a few meanings associated with eye tattoos:

  • Eyes are often seen as symbols of spiritual wisdom and the omnipotence of higher powers.
  • Eye tattoos can also represent human emotions and serve as a reminder of the presence of deceased loved ones.
  • The Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol, represents protection and good health.

Feather Tattoo Meaning

Feathers have been admired for their beauty and symbolism throughout history. Here are a few meanings associated with feather tattoos:

  • Feathers are often seen as symbols of freedom, flight, and spiritual enlightenment.
  • In Native American cultures, feathers have sacred and spiritual connotations, representing a connection to the spiritual world.
  • Feathers can also be chosen purely for their aesthetic appeal and variety of colors and designs.

Fox Tattoo Meaning

Foxes carry both positive and negative symbolism across cultures. Here are a few meanings associated with fox tattoos:

  • Foxes can represent cunning, mystery, and wisdom.
  • In Asian cultures, foxes are symbols of luck and have mythical status.
  • In Western folklore, foxes are often seen as tricksters.

Fu Dog Tattoo Meaning

Fu dogs, also known as lion dogs, are powerful symbols of protection in Asian cultures. Here are a few meanings associated with fu dog tattoos:

  • Fu dogs are believed to offer protection against evil forces.
  • They are often placed in prominent locations such as temples, government buildings, and hospitals.
  • Male and female fu dogs have different symbolism, with the male representing protection of heaven and the female representing protection of the earth.

Ganesha Tattoo Meaning

Ganesha is a revered deity in Hindu culture, symbolizing prosperity, luck, and spiritual guidance. Here are a few meanings associated with Ganesha tattoos:

  • Ganesha is a god of prosperity and luck, and having his image tattooed represents devotion and spirituality.
  • Tattoos of Ganesha can symbolize personal growth, overcoming obstacles, and finding inner peace.
  • Ganesha is often depicted with symbolic elements such as bowls of food, representing abundance and the world at our feet.

Grim Reaper/Death Tattoo Meaning

The Grim Reaper is a powerful symbol of death and mortality. Here are a few meanings associated with Grim Reaper tattoos:

  • Grim Reaper tattoos serve as reminders of our mortality and the transient nature of life.
  • They can also symbolize bravery and courage, as the Grim Reaper is often associated with facing death fearlessly.
  • In some cultures, the skull and other death-related symbols such as gravestones are used to represent death and the cycle of life.

Hamsa Tattoo Meaning

Hamsa tattoos are religious symbols representing protection and spirituality. Here are a few meanings associated with Hamsa tattoos:

  • Hamsa hands are believed to provide protection against evil forces and promote spirituality.
  • The Hamsa hand can be seen as a symbol of good luck, with spread fingers warding off evil and closed fingers bringing good luck.
  • Hamsa tattoos are popular among those seeking spiritual guidance and protection from negative energies.

Hannya Mask/Oni Demon Tattoo Meaning

Hannya masks and Oni demons are popular motifs in Japanese tattoo culture. Here are a few meanings associated with Hannya mask/Oni demon tattoos:

  • Hannya masks represent jealousy and anger, symbolizing fierceness and strength.
  • Oni demons are seen as powerful creatures with sharp foresight, often representing individuals with strong vision and willpower.
  • In Japanese folklore, Hannya masks and Oni demons can also serve as protectors against evil and bring good luck.

Hold Fast Tattoo Meaning

The "Hold Fast" tattoo has nautical origins and is associated with sailors' resilience and strength. Here are a few meanings associated with "Hold Fast" tattoos:

  • "Hold Fast" tattoos serve as reminders of inner strength and resilience during challenging moments in life.
  • They symbolize the ability to hold on and persevere, even in rough seas.
  • Sailors often get "Hold Fast" tattoos to protect them during their journeys and ensure a safe return home.

Icarus Tattoo Meaning

Icarus tattoos represent the Greek myth of Icarus, symbolizing the consequences of pride and arrogance. Here are a few meanings associated with Icarus tattoos:

  • The story of Icarus serves as a warning against hubris and the dangers of overreaching.
  • Icarus tattoos can symbolize the need for balance and humility in one's life.
  • They can also represent strength over adversity and the pursuit of dreams with wisdom and caution.

Infinity Symbol Tattoo Meaning

The infinity symbol represents eternity and limitless possibilities. Here are a few meanings associated with infinity symbol tattoos:

  • Infinity tattoos symbolize the journey of life, with no end and limitless potential.
  • They represent the continuous cycle of life and death, similar to the Ouroboros symbol of a snake eating its own tail.
  • Infinity tattoos can also represent everlasting love and connections with loved ones.

Jesus Christ Tattoo Meaning

Jesus Christ is a central figure in Christianity, symbolizing love, redemption, and faith. Here are a few meanings associated with Jesus Christ tattoos:

  • Jesus tattoos represent a person's devotion to their Christian faith and spirituality.
  • They symbolize Jesus' love for humanity and his teachings of compassion and forgiveness.
  • Jesus tattoos can also serve as reminders of hope, inspiration, and strength in challenging times.

Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

Koi fish are rich in symbolism and often represent determination and perseverance. Here are a few meanings associated with koi fish tattoos:

  • Koi fish symbolize strength, bravery, and the desire to succeed.
  • In Chinese mythology, koi fish swimming upstream and reaching the Dragon's Gate are transformed into dragons, representing transformation and success.
  • Koi fish tattoos often reflect personal struggles and the ability to overcome obstacles.

Lion Tattoo Meaning

Lions are powerful symbols of strength, courage, and wisdom. Here are a few meanings associated with lion tattoos:

  • Lions are often seen as the kings of the animal kingdom, representing power and dominance.
  • They are also associated with inner strength and the ability to reign over our emotions and actions.
  • Lions symbolize bravery and are often used to represent patriotism and heritage.

Lotus Flower Tattoo Meaning

Lotus flowers have deep spiritual and cultural significance, representing purity, enlightenment, and rebirth. Here are a few meanings associated with lotus flower tattoos:

  • Lotus flowers symbolize purity of the body, mind, and spirit, rising above attachment and desire.
  • They represent spiritual awakening and enlightenment, often associated with Buddhist teachings.
  • The color and form of the lotus flower can carry additional meanings, such as love, compassion, or new beginnings.

Mandala Tattoo Meaning

Mandalas are intricate geometric designs representing the universe and spirituality. Here are a few meanings associated with mandala tattoos:

  • Mandalas serve as aids for meditation and focus, representing the order and interconnectedness of the universe.
  • They symbolize the self and one's place in the cosmic order.
  • Mandalas can be personalized with specific patterns and colors, carrying additional meanings or reflecting individual spirituality.

Maneki-Neko Tattoo Meaning

Maneki-Neko, also known as the beckoning cat, is a popular Japanese symbol of good luck and prosperity. Here are a few meanings associated with Maneki-Neko tattoos:

  • Maneki-Neko tattoos are believed to bring good fortune and happiness to those who wear them.
  • The beckoning paw of the Maneki-Neko is seen as an invitation for luck and wealth to enter one's life.
  • The color and accessories worn by the Maneki-Neko can carry additional meanings, such as gold for money or red for good luck.

Moon Tattoo Meaning

The moon has captivated human imagination throughout history, symbolizing mystery, magic, and cycles of life. Here are a few meanings associated with moon tattoos:

  • The moon represents the cycle of life and the ever-changing nature of existence.
  • It can symbolize emotions, femininity, and the subconscious mind.
  • The moon carries different meanings in various cultures, ranging from fear and darkness to love, transformation, and rebirth.

Owl Tattoo Meaning

Owls have fascinated cultures worldwide, representing wisdom, mystery, and magic. Here are a few meanings associated with owl tattoos:

  • Owls symbolize wisdom and knowledge, often associated with ancient myths and goddesses of wisdom.
  • They can represent the ability to see beyond the surface and uncover hidden truths.
  • Owls are also associated with nighttime and the mysteries of the dark, making them symbols of mysticism and intuition.

Panther/Jaguar Tattoo Meaning

Panthers and jaguars hold powerful symbolism in various mythologies, representing strength, courage, and mystery. Here are a few meanings associated with panther/jaguar tattoos:

  • Panthers and jaguars are often seen as symbols of power, dominance, and fearlessness.
  • They can also represent feminine qualities, such as seductiveness and protectiveness.
  • In Native American cultures, the black jaguar is associated with magic and shamanic powers.

Phoenix Tattoo Meaning

The phoenix is a mythical bird associated with rebirth and resurrection. Here are a few meanings associated with phoenix tattoos:

  • The phoenix represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, symbolizing transformation and renewal.
  • It is a powerful symbol of endurance, triumph, and overcoming challenges.
  • The phoenix can also represent hope, new beginnings, and the ability to rise from the ashes stronger than before.

Rose Tattoo Meaning

Roses are timeless symbols of love, beauty, and passion. Here are a few meanings associated with rose tattoos:

  • Roses symbolize love and romance, making them popular choices for couples and those celebrating their relationships.
  • They represent beauty and aesthetic appeal, reflecting the delicate and captivating nature of the flower.
  • Roses can also symbolize spirituality and devotion, often associated with the Virgin Mary and religious traditions.

Sacred Heart Tattoo Meaning

The Sacred Heart is a powerful religious symbol in Christianity, representing the love of Jesus for humanity. Here are a few meanings associated with Sacred Heart tattoos:

  • The Sacred Heart symbolizes deep compassion, love, and devotion in the Christian faith.
  • It serves as a reminder of Jesus' sacrifice and the importance of love and forgiveness.
  • Sacred Heart tattoos are often worn as a sign of faith and a connection to spiritual beliefs.

Semicolon Tattoo Meaning

Semicolon tattoos gained popularity as a symbol of mental health awareness and resilience. Here are a few meanings associated with semicolon tattoos:

  • The semicolon represents a sentence that could have ended, but the author chose to continue. It symbolizes the strength to overcome mental health struggles and keep going.
  • Semicolon tattoos are a way to show support for those facing depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
  • They serve as reminders of hope and the power of self-expression and storytelling.

Ship or "Homeward Bound" Tattoo Meaning

Ship tattoos symbolize a connection to the sea, adventure, and the longing for home. Here are a few meanings associated with ship or "Homeward Bound" tattoos:

  • Ship tattoos are often worn by sailors as a symbol of their profession and a token of good luck during their journeys.
  • They can represent the desire to return home safely after a long voyage, symbolizing resilience and the strength to overcome challenges.
  • Ship tattoos can also evoke a sense of adventure, wanderlust, and the pursuit of new horizons.

Skull Tattoo Meaning

Skull tattoos carry multiple meanings, representing death, mortality, and the transient nature of life. Here are a few meanings associated with skull tattoos:

  • Skulls symbolize the inevitability of death and serve as reminders of our mortality.
  • They can represent bravery and fearlessness in the face of death.
  • Skull tattoos can also carry personal meanings, such as commemorating deceased loved ones or representing a connection to certain subcultures.

Sugar Skull Tattoo Meaning

Sugar skulls are colorful and vibrant symbols associated with the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexican culture. Here are a few meanings associated with sugar skull tattoos:

  • Sugar skulls are not morbid but rather represent a celebration of life and a way to honor deceased loved ones.
  • They symbolize remembrance, joy, and the belief that the souls of the departed return to Earth during the Day of the Dead.
  • Sugar skull tattoos can serve as a colorful and artistic way to remember and pay tribute to loved ones.


Tattoos are a powerful form of self-expression, allowing individuals to carry meaningful symbols and stories on their bodies. From ancient symbols to modern motifs, tattoo designs hold deep cultural and personal significance. Whether you choose an all-seeing eye, an anchor, or a lotus flower, each tattoo carries its own unique meaning and can serve as a constant reminder of what matters most to you. So, take the time to explore the rich symbolism behind each design and find the perfect tattoo that speaks to your soul.

This article was created using AI technology.