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The Personal Meaning Behind Tattoos

Updated on June 17, 2010

It Was Great When It All Began

It just does not seem fitting to write a piece about Tattooing without paying homage to the start of this great art. Just like anything else there a variations in the "story" of how tattooing came about. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that VERY early on tattooing was used by many cultures and very acceptable. The Japanese began tattooing as early as 500 BC and the Egyptians as early as 4000 BC.

It has been said that in 1769 Captain James Cook traveled to Tahitia and saw this form skin markings and referred to them as "tatua". Joseph Banks a naturalist aboard the ship wrote about the Tatua after the experience.

The 1st known professional tattoo artist in the US was Martin Hilder Brandt. In approximately 1891 the 1st electric tattoo machine was issued to Samuel O'Reilly who had a business in New York City.

Over the years tattoos have evolved socially. Service men were an early group that brought tattoos out in the public eye. Today, through pop culture and trendy TV shows, tattoos have grown acceptable in venues where at one time they would never have been.

The stereo type of person who gets a tattoo is a thing of the recent past. Bikers, gang members, incarcerated people, and down right 'bad' people have been pushed aside by college students, Olympians, doctors, lawyers and moms.


Every Picture Tells A Story

Every tattoo tells a story. Even the "no story" is a story. For the most part a person does not choose to mark their skin for a lifetime without an emotional reason attached to it. We have all heard the I was drunk and woke up with a tattoo story. If you heard that story it would probably be pretty funny and my guess is you might just pass it along. Many college students get tattoos these days and I have found by speaking to them that they usually give quite a bit of thought behind their tattoos. They may run the risk in 20 years of saying, "I don't know why I chose this?" but at the time it may have been very meaningful.

However, most tattoos have a deep meaning to the individuals who get them, especially the ones who have lots and lots. You may think they are the ones who just get them for fun but those individuals are the ones who take tattooing very seriously and really have a story to tell.

In memory of a loved one who has passed on is one of the most popular reasons to get a tattoo. It is a tribute and an honor but most of all this gives the living the feeling of being closer to that person.

Religious/Spiritual tattoos are probably the most popular world wide. Tattooing for a loved one or religious purposes somehow legitimizes the tattoo, especially in past years when tattooing was not so popular.

Names. Names are one of those tattoo types that you love or hate. Many people love the idea of their children's, husbands, boyfriends,or girlfriends names on their bodies and others can not even fathom  the idea- always a risk with the names of a partner. I have seen quite a few 'cover up' jobs to fix names after break-ups.

Quotations and Sayings: I really enjoy these type of tattoos. Usually the lettering is interesting and the quotes are unique. I have seen everything from Do Not Enter(guess where that was), A love That Moves The Sun and Other Stars(Dante's Divine Comedy), I will say see you later but never goodbye,Love and Hate, always and forever, Taste For Life, Phoenix Rising, From Here To Eternity, Carpe Diem, and countless others.

Symbols: VERY popular today. Chinese and Japanese symbols are one of the most trendy types of tattoos today. Courage, honor, bravery, eternity, love,complete, universe are just a few. The sideways figure 8 (eternity symbol) very often seen alone or mix with another tattoo. There are countless symbols that are used in tattooing.

Flowers: The Rose the most popular flower tattooed for many many years. You can find lilies, sunflowers, lotus flowers, all types of buds. These are used to represent love, loved ones or just plane beauty.

Animals: Many people tattoo pictures of their animals after they have passed on. I know someone who has a paw print to represent her dog. Many animals have meaning. The Lion strength,dove, and dolphins represent starting over, freedom and several other things depending on which culture you look at. I know someone who survived a fire and had a large tattoo of The Phoenix Rising on her back to represent her living through the deadly experience of a fire. The Native Americans have things called Totems which are animals with specific meaning assigned to them and to individuals.

Tribal Weaves: This continues to be very popular here in the US but seemed to skyrocket starting in the 1990s. Celtic weaves are REALLY popular and they are aesthetically beautiful and can be filled into almost any design. I have seen it in a dolphin, a cross, a circle, a heart and countless other things.

Designing your own tattoos had become quite the craze. For those who want to have something no one else has you can design your tattoo and have the artist size it. There are many artist who draw or do computer graphics who are hired by individuals to create the perfect image for their tattoo.

There are many many other tattoos designs that range from commonplace to the highly unusual. No two tattoos are the same. Even if they are chosen from the same stencil each artist has their own energy and style which make each inking he or she does unique.

Why Do it?

Only you can answer that question. There are those who consider it a way of life and find acceptance in the world via their tattoos. The tattoo community is a strong one. There are those who would never consider it until they unfortunately suffered a loss and find tattooing a chance to reconnect. There are those who do it on a whim or a dare, those who feel they have accomplished something and want to share it, those that do it because it is tough, those who do it to be pretty, those who wake up after a long night and 'find' they have a new tattoo. Whatever the reasons are they certainly are interesting and give food for thought.

Be Wise and Appreciate

Today tattooing is so very commonplace so that you no longer have to go to the seedy side of town and worry about rusty and dirty needles. However, there are always some safety precautions one should take:

1. Research the tattoo shop.

2. Look at the artist's book to make sure you like his or her work.

3. Try to use a place where you know other people have gone.

4. Make sure all the tools are taken out of sealed bags.

5. Make sure the artist wears gloves.

6. Take proper car of your tattoo after you get it.

Appreciate this as the fine art that it really is. Not many things have been around longer. Think of how seriously a tattoo artist must be to ink your body to last a lifetime. Awards are given all over the world to recognize tattoo artist and their works. Enjoy!

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    • Scarlett Black profile image

      Scarlett Black 7 years ago from New York

      Thanks for the comment and the thoughts. I am off tomorrow for my 4th and all mine have great personal meaning.

    • mailxpress profile image

      Michelle Cesare 7 years ago from New York


      I found this Hub to be very interesting. The meaning behind tattoos go so deep within people. Some of the reason I read here has never crossed my mind. I also like the way you speak about college students. Many of them do put a whole lot of thought into the tattoo they choose.