Tattoos are more than just murals painted on a canvas of skin.
They often are symbols of life experiences, the illustrations of a greater tale lived in actual days.
When we see someone with great ink, we often say something like this:
“That’s an awesome tattoo! What does it mean?”
“I love your tattoo. What’s the story behind it?”
For many, it’s the backstory, the symbolism, that makes tattoos so intriguing.
Popular Tattoo Symbolism
Anyone thinking of getting a tattoo clearly likes the idea of cool body art, but we usually want it to carry a specific meaning.
We want to communicate, to tell a story, or to imply greater meaning with our ink, and we’re often fascinated by the symbolism found in others’ ink as well.
Let’s look at some of the more popular tattoo symbols and what they mean.
Known across the globe for their mystical intelligence and ferocity, dragon tattoos often symbolize the following characteristics:
- Strength and Power
- Prosperity and good fortune
- Emotional strength
- Creation/destruction dichotomy
- Desire and Sexual Passion
With the dragon’s infinite longevity and wisdom comes complexity — learn more about dragon tattoos here.
The butterfly enters the world as a character of little remark, yet it leaves the world as a vibrant and beautiful creature following a brilliant struggle to free its true self.
The butterfly represents beauty, metamorphosis, rebirth, and change. The Japanese believe that the butterfly represents the human soul.
Known in many traditions as both a leader and fiercely independent, the lion makes for a versatile symbol that the wearer can assign his or her own meaning to.
Many people interpret he lion tattoo as symbolizing the following:
- Unlimited and unchallengeable authority
Thoughts of self-determination, feelings of courage, power, and having what it takes to go out into the world and realize the life you’ve always wanted — the lion can symbolize all of these aspects.
Roses are beautiful flowers and popular choices for tattoos. They can be colored or done in black ink.
Roses symbolize passion, love, beauty, and strength. The color of the rose can also alter its meaning, with black often symbolizing someone’s death and red symbolizing passion, for example.
Wings symbolize freedom, constant reminders that you go where you will and cannot be contained in someone else’s cage. They are symbols of free will.
The wings of angels are used as symbols in many religions and classic literature, as well.
Often found in Japanese tattoos, the cherry blossoms are symbols of the cycle of life in Japanese culture.
Cherry blossoms bloom every spring, turning the entire country white for about 2 weeks, then fall in a shower to the ground. There’s a forlorn sadness as they fall, but there’s also the knowledge that they will come again the following year.
They are delicate and beautiful, standing constant change, for the birth of a child, or mourning the loss of someone very close to the heart.
The Dream Catcher
A mystical symbol from the Native American culture, dream catchers have the ability to encapture good dreams and chase away nightmares.
A type of good luck charm, the dream catcher symbolizes success, happiness, and good fortune.
The sun symbolizes life in many cultures across the globe.
The sun signifies fertility, beginnings, new starts, power, perseverance, and much more, making it a popular theme for people who wish to tell the story of leaving behind rough times or departing from an old path.
The Native American tribes viewed the wolf as an animal sent by the “Great Spirit” to guide man from a distance, a possessor of divine wisdom.
The wolf is also a warrior symbol.
Japanese kanji or Chinese characters are writing based on symbols. They are often impressive to look at, and they seem to carry an air of mystery, power, and deep meaning.
A word of caution: Mistakes abound. The Japanese and Chinese language often DOES NOT TRANSLATE DIRECTLY into English.
Google Translate is NOT your friend here.
Be very careful and do your research, or you’re likely to end up with a tattoo that gets laughed at by anyone speaking that language fluently.
The List of Tattoo Symbols Goes On and On…
Of course, any list of symbols is endless.
Every culture has their significant images, and somebody out there has put them into ink.
For some of us, it’s just how we choose to communicate who we are, where we have been, or where we hope to be headed on our lives’ journeys.
Considering symbolism and meaning is a great way to start planning your next (or first) tattoo, but never limit yourself. What’s most important to remember is that it’s your story, your experience, your message.
Your tattoo can mean anything you want.
If you’ve got a serious story you want to tell through body art, consider a custom tattoo design. Let’s make those dreams a reality.