40 symbolic tattoos with profound meanings (with photos)

IsabellaIsabella Garm | 12 September 2022

Well chosen tattoos with a romantic or philosophical meaning behind them.

Tattoos are in style. All you have to do is look around to see tons of people who, using art on their skin, seek to express something about their personality, their goals or their uncertainties about life.

There are multiple reasons for getting a tattoo. While for some getting tattoos becomes an obsession as they try to fill every surface of their body with ink, for others tattooing may have a symbolic meaning or be used as a way of seducing others. In fact, tattoos even get some people excited: something known as stigmatophilia.

‘Tattoos’ are ancient

Although tattoos are in style right now, they have been around for thousands of years. In fact, piercings and tattoos have existed almost since the beginning of humanity and many different cultures and tribes have used them throughout the world.

For example, the Maya used piercings on different parts of their face (lips, ears, or nose) because to them it was a symbol of status; the Polynesians didn’t only tattoo themselves as a symbol of wealth, but also, through the use of tattoos, they displayed strength and power.

40 tattoos full of symbolism

Tattoos are currently in style. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, you can find a list of 40 tattoos full of meaning below. Don’t miss out!

1. Semi-colon

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On paper, the semi-colon is used to separate two independent sentences that have a narrow semantic relation. But when the period and comma are drawn on the skin they mean something totally different: “the importance of believing that this isn’t the end but rather a new beginning.”

The semi-colon tattoo became well known because of Project SemiColon, the project of a girl named Amy whose father committed suicide when she was young, who now dedicates her time to shedding light on the thoughts and feelings that came from that experience. The period and comma is a message that comes from the notion that there is still a lot of life ahead—that while you might be at a turning point, at the same time it’s a new beginning.

2. Vegvisir: magical Icelandic symbol

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In the Icelandic language, “Vegvisir” means roadmap. Apparantly, the Vegvisir is a symbol used by the vikings. For them it was a sort of solar compass used for navigation during travel—something similar to a wind rose.

It was very important as a magic symbol, and was used as an amulet or charm. The Vegvisir symbolized the strength that guides us when we are lost, helps us not to make errors, and to find our true path.

3. Butterflies

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The butterfly is an insect that faces the difficulty of leaving a cocoon. 

It represents beauty, metamorphosis, rebirth, change. For the Japanese, the butterfly represents one’s own soul; for the Chinese, two butterflies together symbolize love.

4. L'Om

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The Om is the most essential symbol in Hinduism. It is one of the most sacred mantras in the Hindu Dharma that means unity with the supreme, the combination of the spiritual and the physical. As a tattoo, this profound and powerful symbol refers to life and to the entire universe. It is a beautiful symbol that looks great as a tattoo.

5. Malin

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The Malin’s origin is in Sweden. It’s similar to the infinity symbol but with an arrow. Having it as a tattoo expresses that you have to live through setbacks in order to move forward.

6. Zen circle

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The Zen circle, in spite of being an ancient symbol, is hugely popular right now.  It looks very elegant tattooed on skin. The incomplete circle represents the universe and, additionally, inner strength and illumination.

7. Harry Potter Triangle

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This triangle represents the three Deathly Hallows in the Harry Potter series. It is a triangle divided in two by a straight line with a circle inside of it. The triangle represents the Cloak of Invisibility, the circle represents the Resurrection Stone, and the straight line represents the Elder Wand. The tattoo looks great and couples can use it as an “A” for always.

8. Phases of the moon

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The phases of the moon represent life. They also represent how life changes. Tattooing the phases of the moon is a reminder of how we have to constantly adapt ourselves to change.

9. Treble clef and Bass clef

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This is a very common tattoo among music lovers, but especially for those who are talented in this realm and to whom music is their passion.

10. Dragonfly

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These small creatures a wonderful tattoo subject due to their fascinating nature. Having a dragonfly tattoo is considered extremely feminine, due to how delicate and beautiful these insects are. Dragonflies symbolize good luck, purity, prosperity, harmony and strength.

11. Stars

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Stars are an extremely common tattoo choice. On skin, they refer to truth, the spirit, courage and hope. Stars provide light in the darkness of night. In addition to being beautiful, they guide us when confusion takes over.

12. Dragons

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Dragons are known for being large and ferocious. They are beautiful creatures that easily capture our imagination. That makes them a popular tattoo choice. Dragon tattoos can be large in order to show their enormous presence, or small and delicate, almost like a representation of a miniature form of the giant being. Dragon tattoos represent purity, hope, strength, wonder and creativity.

13. Hearts

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Hearts represent love and passion, and tend to symbolize a person’s feelings. It tends to be a feminine tattoo and can be dedicated to a loved one.

14. Tree of life

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Trees are considered sacred in many countries and cultures. However, although they have different meanings in different cultures, in general they symbolize knowledge, protection, strength, forgiveness and eternal life. They are a symbol of resistance and strength.

15. Feathers

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Another popular tattoo design is the feather. Among different meanings behind this tattoo style, you might find: dreams, desires, or the soul. Anywhere is a good place to tattoo a feather.

16. Glyph

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A glyph is a drawn, written or painted symbol. For example, glyphs in Maya writing or Greek glyphs. In Ancient Egypt, glyphs receive the name “hieroglyphs”. They are ideal tattoos for any part of the body, as long as they are small in size.

17. Zodiac sign

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Few tattoos have as much meaning to a person than Zodiac signs. In general, individuals tend to tattoo their own zodiac sign, though, sometimes, it is also possible that one would tattoo that of an important person in their life, for example, their partner.

18. The sun

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This is a universal tattoo. It symbolizes life, rebirth and fertility. It also symbolizes power, perseverance and a new beginning; that is to say, leaving the past behind.

19. Roses

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Roses are beautiful flowers, and in addition, are well known because they represent love for another. Generally, in the West, gifting roses to your girlfriend means that you love her. Given this, roses symbolize love, beauty, passion and strength.

20. Birds

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Bird tattoos are also very common. There are different varieties, for example, a few little birds, or one large bird. Birds symbolize freedom and hope.

22. Wings

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Another tattoo much like the last is that of wings, which represent freedom and ownership over one’s life. The size of the wings can vary from large to small, but generally, the meaning is the same.

23. Le Sankofa

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This is an African symbol that means “return and conquer”, which makes it a symbol of the importance of learning from the past. It represents a bird that is smooths its wings before flying.

24. Arrows

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Arrows are another commonly found tattoo.  They can mean different things depending on the person. In general, they make reference to dreams or goals and the path to be followed. They can also refer to overcoming setbacks.

25.Incomplete delta

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The incomplete delta tattoo is symbolic in the sense that, since it has one corner open, it means that one is open to change. This is a tattoo that looks best when tattoos in smaller dimensions.

26. The Inguz Rune

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The Inguz Rune (or Ing) relates to the Viking god Ing, the god of fertility and creativity. For that reason, this tattoo expresses the moments in which solutions come and things change for the better.

27. Anchor

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The anchor tattoo is a classic and it makes reference to power, strength and stability.

28. Aut in veniam viam aut faciam

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Some people choose to tattoo Latin phrases. The phrase “Aut inveniam viam aut faciam” is translated as: “I’ll find a path, or make one”. It definitely represents change, courage and confidence in one’s self.

29. Carpe diem

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The Carpe Diem tattoo is also very symbolic. In Latin, it means “seize the day”, which means to live in the present. Live life your own way.

30. Meraki

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Meraki is a Greek word that means to live with passion and creativity.

31. Eye of Horus

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Horus was one of the most important Egyptian gods. Normally represented by a falcon or a man with the head of a falcon, he was a sky deity.

32. Koi fish

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The Koi, one of the typical Japanese tattoos, represents perseverance, since they are capable of swimming against strong currents bit by bit.

33. Lotus flower

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A Buddhist symbol that represents purity.

34. Thunderbird

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A mythological creature from some Amerindian tribes of North America. It represents the force of nature.

35. Celtic knot

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Celtic knots represent infinity and eternity, since they have no beginning and end.

36. Sailboat

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The sailboat represents calm and solitude. It can be a very iconic tattoo.

37. Triforce

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One of the most famous symbols in videogame history is this element of the Zelda saga. Each one of the triangles represents power, wisdom and virtue.

38. Lauburu

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A typical cross in regions associated with the Basque and Navarre cultures. It is a Pre-christian symbol, and is believed to represent the sun.

39. Thief’s mark

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The symbol with which Galdalf marks the protagonist’s door in J.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. It represents the beginning of an adventure.

40. Jamsa

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This symbol represents the principle monotheistic religions and is used as a representation of a desire for peace between religions.