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Choosing a Tattoo Motive

Updated on February 25, 2014

A motive is like a recurring theme or idea in a piece of art. Since tattoos are considered by many to be a form of art, you may notice people choosing a certain tattoo motive when they walk into a tattoo parlor. There are some tattoo motives that are more popular than others and much of the decision lies in the person’s personal preference. Following are some of the most common tattoo motives in case you are considering getting one for yourself.

A woman getting tattoo lettering - a common tattoo motive.
A woman getting tattoo lettering - a common tattoo motive.

Words and Phrases

Many people choosing to get inked are choosing words and phrases as their tattoo motive. Asian symbols are becoming more and more popular and people are choosing words like “Hope,” “Love” or “Peace” to tattoo onto their body with the Chinese symbol for those ideas. Others may have something written in a language that is special or significant to them. Angelina Jolie, for instance, has an incantation tattooed on her body written in Khmer, the native language of Cambodia, the place where she adopted her son. If you decide on this type of tattoo motive, however, be prepared to constantly tell people what it means because everybody and their brother is going to ask you about it. Also, be sure you get the right symbol or character for the idea you want to portray. There have been stories about people thinking they have something like “Love” tattooed on their wrist when the character actually means something offensive.

Quotes are also becoming popular as a tattoo motive. You can sum up the way you feel about life or that special someone with just a few words. Others have a motivational quote tattooed somewhere on their body where they can see it all the time, such as their forearm or wrist. “Seize the Day,” Wake Your Dreams” or some other short phrase can be a constant reminder to get you motivated to do what you need to do each and every day. You may even want to search the internet for some famous words to tattoo. Search for quotes in your favorite subject to find something memorable.

People are also choosing to have someone’s name tattooed somewhere on their body as their tattoo motive. We all know the dangers of tattooing a boyfriend’s or a girlfriend’s name on our body, but yet people still do it. A better tattoo motive if you want to tattoo someone’s name on your body is to permanently etch your child’s or a special relative’s name on your skin. This is something that will never change so you can save yourself the cost and pain of getting the tattoo removed with a laser.

Another thing to keep in mind when going for a word tattoo is that if you can't keep still while the tattoo artist is inking you, that artist might make a permanent inking mistake. In larger script, it is not too noticeable, but a fine cursive script will show as plain as day. If you've ever gotten a tattoo before, you may be familiar with the muscles twitching. It's almost out of your control. It's probably not the best idea to get a thin cursive tattoo if you don't know how your muscles will react to being tattooed!

No, the baby isn't getting a tattoo...some words to go along with a footprint tattoo could be your baby's name or nickname.
No, the baby isn't getting a tattoo...some words to go along with a footprint tattoo could be your baby's name or nickname.


Proud moms and dads all across the country are choosing their baby’s footprints as a tattoo motive for their body. A talented tattoo artist can create an incredibly lifelike replicate of your baby’s footprints or handprints on your body. Depending on the artist’s skill, they can even capture your baby’s unique lines and wrinkles to make it as close as possible without actually putting the real thing on your body. Simply bring in a photocopy of the child’s footprints for the artist to replicate. A color copy works better because a normal copy does not show as much detail. You should also have a font style in mind in case you decide to have the child’s name tattooed on yourself somewhere near the handprints or footprints. Many people choose either their back, side, shoulder or forearm for this type of tattoo motive, but you can choose any area of your body that you want.

A tribal tattoo motive.
A tribal tattoo motive.

Tribal Tattoos

Tribal tattoos have been around for thousands of years and many people still choose them today as their tattoo motive. Although many people get a tribal tattoo simply because it is trendy or it looks “cool,” there are others who know the significance of the designs and the symbolism associated with the tribal tattoos. The Polynesian culture is especially fond of tribal tattoos even to this day. Tribal tattoos are not only restricted to going around the bicep either. Many people get tribal tattoos that go around their thigh, ankle, wrist, bellybutton and even their neck. If you can take the pain, you can get a tribal tattoo pretty much anywhere on your body that you choose.

Author's Tattoo Ideas

I have an animal tattoo motif going on. Currently, I have four wolf paw prints on my foot. I plan to get:

  • Two Betta Splendens, one blue and one red, circling off as though they will fight (located on my opposing shoulder's)
  • Two Raven's feathers crisscrossing (located on my left foot)
  • One Hummingbird sitting on a branch, puffed up in anger (located on my back)
  • One Blue Poison Dart Frog (located on my back, upper right)

Lotus tattoos are a sign of zen and peace.
Lotus tattoos are a sign of zen and peace. | Source

Other Tattoo Motives

Butterfly tattoos are extremely popular, but those can be considered tattoos for girls. Try other insects, such as a praying mantis, a ladybug, a dragonfly or damselfly, or a centipede. Each insect comes with it's own symbolism, and depending on the tattoo artist and the design, an insect motive can be very stunning. Or you could go for the less common moth tattoo motive - closely related but much more understated with haunting beauty.

Animals are common, and can range from intense tiger tattoos for men to cute puppy tattoos for women. Many people get tattoo motives of their pets that may have passed away as a memorial. Koi tattoos are very common, as well as wolf, hummingbird, and snake tattoo. If you are strapped for a new idea for an animal tattoo, try to find animals native to your area. For example, rather than a tiger, how about a puma? Or instead of a Koi fish, why not a sunfish or a Mola Mola? Be eclectic and search for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish that live where you do, or where you're cultural heritage is from.

A tattoo motive can be anything you want it to be. There are some tattoo motives that are more popular than others, but it is all about individual choice and choosing something that fits your particular personality. Don’t just simply go along with a trend or something that is popular right now because it could go out of style in a few years. Choose a tattoo motive that makes you happy because you will have to live with it for the rest of your life.

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