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Small Glossary of Tattoo Meanings

Small Glossary of Tattoo Meanings

Tattoos are never done just for the sake of being done. Everybody who decides to get a permanent tattoo on their body thinks about the meaning and symbol of the desired tattoo before choosing it. This way, by noticing people’s tattoos and knowing their meaning, you will find out a little bit of their personality. We have put together a small glossary of tattoo meanings for you to read and remember. However, many people attribute personal symbolism to their tattoos, so it will be difficult to know exactly what it means if you don’t ask the person directly.


A very common symbol for tattoos, the anchor used to be tattooed on members of the Navy or sailors that missed their home and wanted to set their anchor there and not sail from place to place any more.

Ankh Cross

This Egyptian cross is packed with deep symbolism, but what you have to remember about it is that it is related to the idea of eternal life. These crosses are usually found on tombs, to show that the mummy is carrying on its life in a different world. So whoever is wearing an Ankh cross has a strong desire to live eternally.

Black Panther

The Black Panther tattoo was first made because its design is very fluid and fits very well on the human muscles. Along with the creation of the Black Panther party in the 60s, the panther began also to be the symbol of the black ethnicity.


The butterfly is a beautiful and astonishing creature that is mainly associated with metamorphosis or rebirth, due to its process of transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly. The Japanese and the Greek think of the butterfly as a representation of the soul which is free and reborn from time to time. If someone has a tattoo with two butterflies flying together, that will be a symbol of love.


These beautiful, red, round fruits are symbols for femininity, fertility and desire. Women love to express their special powers through cherry tattoos

Cherry Blossoms

These delicate flowers represent the fragile thread of life due to their short life span. People choose to tattoo them usually because of their beauty and deep symbolism.

Christian Cross and Celtic Cross

Both these crosses are used as symbols of Christianity and people who get tattoos of these crosses are usually devoted to religion. The Celtic cross has more artistic dimensions and comes in different designs.


The dolphin has no actual symbolical meaning in any culture, but is seen as a friendly and cheerful creature due to popular culture and to its high intelligence and training skills. The Hindus consider the dolphin a good omen when spotted on the sea. Dolphin tattoos will usually symbolize luck, wisdom and love.


The dragon is a very important mythical creature for the Chinese culture and it is also presented in other European folklore as being a fearful creature and a guardian of treasures. It is associated with power, wisdom and longevity.


The eagle is a national symbol for the United States, but not only. Mexico, India, Armenia, Romania or Egypt also have it on their national emblems. This bird is a symbol of power and freedom and it is also very highly charged with symbolism for the Native Americans.


Japanese geishas are beautiful women who perform arts and entertainment. They are seen as ideals of beauty, thus tattoos with their image representing perfection, beauty and art.

Hindu deities

There are many people who are passionate about Hinduism, although they were not born in India, some of them choosing to get tattoos with their favorite Hindu deities. Ganesh is the elephant head deity that removes obstacles and creates new beginnings; Shiva is the supreme god and usually is pictured having a third eye, a crescent moon, tiger skin, blue throat, serpents, a trident and a few other accessories that represent power; Krishna looks like a young boy who plays a flute and represents guidance; Kali is the goddess of death and time and is pictured carrying a sword, a trident, a severed head and a cup that collects its blood.


The jester was an entertainer at the courts of European kings. It is a symbol of comedy, of making a fool of oneself.

Koi fish

These beautiful fish symbolize perseverance in the Japanese culture, meaning attributed due to a legend that says about Koi fish which succeed swimming to the falling point of the Yellow River that they will become dragons. They are thus a symbol of strength and ambition.


The lion is considered one of the most powerful animals on Earth, so a lion tattoo will be a symbol of courage, strength, protection, royalty and ambition. It is part of mythologies all over the globe, impersonating different deities: war god for the ancient Egyptians, Vishnu in the Hindu religion and imperial figures in China.

Lotus flower

A very important flower for Hindus, the lotus is seen as a symbol of perfection and purity. Sometimes they are pictured in other colors than white, having different meanings: red for love, blue for wisdom, purple for mysticism and pink for supreme perfection.


Mermaids are feminine mythological creatures, half women, half fish, which were told to attract sailors to their deaths.


The monkey is seen as a funny animal, often playful and tricky. It doesn’t actually have positive characteristics. In Buddhism, the monkey was an early incarnation of Buddha which is seen as ugly and mischievous. A well-known representation of the monkey is “the three wise monkeys” drawing which shows three monkeys covering different parts of their head: Mizaru (covers eyes, sees no evil), Kikazaru (covers ears, hears no evil), and Iwazaru (covers mouth, speaks no evil).


The bird which is reborn from its own ashes is a well known symbol of rebirth, resurrection and fresh starts. The phoenix tattoo designs are spectacular in colors and details.

Pin Up Girls

These pin up girls are old-school symbols of beauty. Men choose to tattoo such girls on their bodies as a sign of their love for women and for beauty.
Reverted cross (St. Peter’s cross)
The upside down cross represents the crucifixion of St Peter, but in modern days it is more commonly known as a symbol in Satanism.

Scarab Beetle

This beetle is also called “the dung beetle” because it uses its skill to roll balls of dung where it lays its eggs. It was associated by the Egyptians with the cycle of heavens that is performed by the god Ra, rolling across the sky to reincarnate souls into bodies.


Sometimes associated with maps, ships are typical tattoos for sailors, showing their home sickness but at the same time the devotion towards their job.

Spider webs

Because the webs of spiders are used to capture prey which cannot escape once it is caught, they have become symbols for imprisonment. Spider web tattoos usually show the time spent in prison by inmates.


Star tattoos are very popular and there are several types of stars with different meanings. They can be guiding lights for navigation or symbols of hope and granted wishes: nautical stars are similar to the North Star and were guides for sailors, thus symbols for safe return; falling stars are attributed good luck and wish-grating capacities; pentagrams either represent the five elements of the world or a symbol of Satanism; the Star of David represents Jewish faith.


Another tattoo typical for sailors, the swallow is a symbol of hope, as it usually showed that there was land nearby. There are also tattoos with pairs of swallows which are a symbol of love, as these birds have only one mate in their lifetime.


The actual meaning of the symbol is love and good fortune in Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. However, ever since the Nazis adopted it before World War II, no one associated it with love and luck any more.


The tiger is another very powerful animal that is respected and celebrated in China, South Korea, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. In the Chinese tradition the tiger is one of the 12 animals of the zodiac and it is the rival of the Chinese dragon. When you see a tiger tattoo it will usually mean superiority, power and bravery.


The whale is an amazing sea creature that has a role in many cultures of the world. Among the Inuit a legend says that the world order was ruined when a whale was found astray and it didn’t go back to normal until the whale was returned to the sea. This huge sea creature is a symbol of humility, showing that despite its size it does no wrong.


People who like stories and fantasy in general may like the idea of drawing a wizard on their body. The wizard is a powerful human being with magical abilities. They can be either good or bad, depending on the culture.


The wolf is important in the Japanese culture, they dedicate shrines to it, asking for crop protection against boars or other small animals. In the Native American culture the wolf is mystical, humans choosing to disguise as wolves to pass unseen. However, in the Orthodox Bible the wolf is pictured as a greedy and evil character. People choose different meanings for their wolf tattoos, that’s for sure.

Yin and Yang

A very powerful symbol, wide spread all over the cultures of the world, Yin and Yang represents the duality of the human being, the balance between light and darkness, between good and evil.


Zombies are very popular characters in horror movie and people get tattoos of such undead people because they like their gruesome image. Actually, a voodoo legend says that the “zombie” originates from the power of the shamans to bring dead back to life, having total control over their will.

Now that you know the meanings of some of the tattoo designs, you can go show off your knowledge with your tattooed friends! If you love temporary tattoos, try one from here!

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