Everyone gets a tattoo for a different reason. Meaningful tattoos. We asked a few of our friends to explain to us what their tattoos mean to them. Their stories are beautiful, sad, hopeful, and worth reading!
While looking at tattoos online, I’ve often found myself wondering why someone chose to get a particular tattoo. Like, why an elephant? Why a moon? What do those numbers mean? I know that in my personal experience, nearly every tattoo I have has a very specific meaning behind it. I will admit that my very first tattoo, a small heart on my ankle, had no particular meaning, and it was all I could think of on the spot. I also have another tattoo that I just picked off the wall because it was pretty. Guess what? I get more compliments on that one than any of my others.
I set out to find the meanings and stories behind tattoos, starting with my friends and family. Here is their ink and their stories in their own words. Comments in parenthesis are my own.
Meaningful Tattoos and Their Stories:
“I have stitches around both my wrists ala Frankenstein/bride of Frankenstein. The right wrist has the spider finishing up the stitching with what is actually her web. I just love spiders and old horror so it was a good way to combine two of my favorite things into one piece. I wish I could say it was something deeper than that but it’s not!” *Amber J.
“My tattoo is for Autism Speaks in honor of my 12 year old grandson, Riley.” *Debbie P.
For more information about Autism, visit autismspeaks.org.
“My only thought at the time was ‘Save a couple bucks, give yourself a tattoo!'” (BEFORE PICTURE)
“The next day I went in and got it professionally done and he covered my little creation. It turned out to be way better than anything I could have dreamed of. Tattoo artists have a gift and it’s worth every penny.” (AFTER PICTURE) *Rachael H. (This tattoo says “live strong” in Spanish.)
(There’s a lesson here, kids. Never attempt to tattoo yourself unless you are, in fact, a professional tattoo artist. Check out this article on how to find the best artist.)
“The pocket watch is because my papa always had one, the flowers (purple) are for my nana who loved purple. The watch has the time and date Madison (my daughter) was born. It also has her name.” *Melissa K.
“I had the birds done in South Korea (my husband was stationed there) and they didn’t turn out the way I had wanted. I really like the traditional tattoo styles. I wanted to add to the birds because they just looked out of place there and I wanted to add something. I went with a traditional lock because of my maiden name (Locke), and let the tattoo artist go crazy with the rest to tie it all together.” *Tara G.
“This is my first tattoo. It is close to my heart, because Portugal has become my heart, my home. Studying in Lisbon for my Master’s in creative writing came during a time when I felt lost, when all I wanted to do was wander away from the home I no longer had back in the States. I met a friend abroad who opened his home to me in Lisbon, and this tattoo is in his handwriting. It stemmed from the quote, ‘Not all those who wander are lost,’ but Portuguese is a difficult language to translate. It took many phrases before finding one that fit the language. We tried ‘To wander is to be home,’ but that didn’t translate. He, along with another Lisbon local, came up with the phrase, ‘To lose myself is to find myself’ which translates to ‘Perder-me para me encontrar.’ This etching in my skin will always remind me that if I choose to get lost again, I will always end up finding newer and better parts of myself and the world.” *Anonymous
“I’ve always felt tattooed. This to say that a Catholic child may take literally the ‘indelible marks on the soul’ we were promised with baptism. I pictured them like bruises on an apple—fogbound and islandish. Sharper were the laser pricks of stigmata, which only saints earned—sting rays through air. How pain is materialized. Later via Cupid’s mis-slung arrows too, of course, and names carved into trees. Documented bruises. A long neck-side scar. Think of it as the story of your life written on your body, one lover comforted.
“I’m not so autobiographical as a writer, though—so while one of my children’s partners is a fine tattoo artist (Ron Nelson owns Mission Street Tattoo in Santa Cruz) and my children are well and beautifully inked (tattoo as family gifting, ongoing and free)—it took me a long time to think of a literal tattoo for myself. Being a poet was directly unhelpful. I was also transfixed by several ‘lost’ tattoos—the Buddha on the arm of a beloved suicide, the faun ‘covered’ into a scarab. That Ron’s early equipment went to rust in a flooded-out Louisiana shop post-Katrina. That tattoos both draw the eye to the body and work somehow as armor.
“I was into my second decade of tattoo imagination fail when my friend and collaborator, Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes, loaned me poems in Portuguese by Fernando Pessoa’s beguiling heteronyms. Soon acquired: a book impossible to really fall out of, Pessoa’s great O Livro do Desassossego/ The Book of Disquiet. Reading Pessoa coincided with the wonderful invention of the Disquiet International conference in Lisbon, Portugal –in its 2nd year I was invited to run The Fernando Pessoa Game, a verbal/visual workshop. Cyriaco and I now wander Pessoa’s beloved hometown each July, and each new encounter in our Game begins with a passage in our two languages from Pessoa’s peerless “factless autobiography.”
I don’t sleep. I inter-exist.
“Which we find by opening the book without thought, as I just did. The writer and their words seem simply included among others here, a state that feels radically familiar. Also fresh and strange – have I ever read this page before? At long last Pessoa’s own name demo’d the way. In Portuguese and not capitalized, as in my eventual tattoo, pessoa means simply ‘a person.’ To be stamped ‘person,’ as I finally became under my son-in-law’s accomplished tattoo gun, is perhaps not too much to claim. At least you’ll be able to find me that way in the lost baggage claim at the end of the world.” *Terri W.
“I just got this memorial tattoo for my parents. They died in 2004 and 2005, 6 months apart. My mom loved ducks. She had these ceramic ducks with pink bows (her favorite color) all over her apartment. My dad loved to sing. He used to sing the song ‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole with me. I named the duck Carrie Okey in honor of my love of karaoke!” *Kris Y.
(I think this one might be my favorite! If you didn’t know the story behind this meaningful tattoo, you’d be like, “Why is the duck singing Nat King Cole???”)
“This tattoo, while not the highest quality inking I’ve ever gotten, is by far my most meaningful. Long before I was born, my family (on my mom’s side) started a tradition of serving pasta and fried shrimp for Christmas Eve dinner. My grandfather would peel a few pounds of shrimp (which became upwards of 10 pounds in the last several years), coat them in flour and fry them up in a secret combination of oils. He’d give them a nice dash of salt as soon as they came out of the pan, and everyone would gather around and snag as many as they could before the next batch came out. My grandfather passed away in 2007, but we still continue this tradition. Even though some of the families have moved away, we all still celebrate Christmas Eve with Grampa’s shrimp. So I had these shrimp tattooed onto my leg in the shape of a heart to commemorate our beloved tradition and the memory of my amazing Grampa. You might notice that each shrimp has a set of waves on it. One month before my cousin Matt’s 21st birthday, he was killed in a car accident. I included the waves in my tattoo to represent his love of fishing and being out on the water.” *Jennifer Heuertz (that’s right, the author of this article.)
“So this tattoo. This was from the last letter my grandma sent me before she died. It’s her handwriting, and I wanted it on my arm so I could be reminded of her everyday. It’s how she lived her life- with love, and how I’m trying to live mine too.” – Kelly O’Mara.
This tattoo is inspired by a dearest friend and feline companion of mine who was with me in this life for 20 years. I got this beautiful ink in honor of my time with Sam, who was a gorgeous black cat with an old soul and an air of wisdom around him that often left people feeling either afraid or intrigued. The tattoo features a fishbone symbolic of a matching pendant we both wore, surrounded by a red, wavy circle representing the blood bond between us that will never end. Within the fishbone from tail to head it reads “always” interwoven with the bones further sinking in meaning, on a somewhat hidden secret level. I am very proud of this design and wear it as a badge of honor, for having had the fortune to have known, and spent time with, one of the most awesome creatures to have graced this world.
Thanks to those who sent us their pic and stories.
If you have a tattoo, please make a comment and let everyone know why it is special to you.
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