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Popular tattoos and their meanings

 Popular tattoos and their meanings (Photo: iStock)

Some tattoos have hidden messages, and your intended meaning is probably not the one portrayed by the ink. It might be the place on your body where the tattoo is located or even worse, the tattoo itself.

The placement of the tattoo is more often than not as important as the tattoo itself and it should not be a random choice; neither should you just pick an image nor go for it simply because you have seen other people don them and look 'cute'. These are some of the most misused tattoos.


This is one of the most commonly recognised of all prison tattoos, which has been seen on rappers and other celebrities. It is visible since it is always right beneath the eye. This tattoo mainly indicates that the person wearing it has killed someone, or they served or is still serving a lengthy prison sentence, or, when simply the outline of a teardrop, can mean the wearer is in prison for attempted murder. Or it can mean the wearer had a friend murdered and will be out for revenge.

Watch with no hands

Inmates mostly wear this particular tattoo to show that they will be serving a whole lot of time with no chance of parole. Variations include an hourglass.

Spider web

Mainly emblazoned on the elbow, it shows that the wearer is doing a long stretch behind bars. The web represents the prison which traps its prey, just as the criminals are caged.


Traditionally, this was a symbol that a sailor had returned home safely after a successful voyage. Today, it signifies that one has spent and served their time in prison. It is supposed to stand for "done your bird, done your time."

Ink on wedding finger

This should be won by men mainly as an equality statement used as a support for gay marriages. But more couples also commemorate their nuptials by getting the permanent ink, the wedding ring tattoo.

Three-point tattoo

These mostly appear under the eye or on the hand and can represent, "my crazy life", or the holy Catholic trinity. It is also a criminal tattoo with the tri spots standing for "death to the cows", cows meaning police.

Winged skull

Skull tattoos give death life on the skin. As such, flying skulls and tattoos symbolise that death frees one of the burdens of life, the progression of the human soul through the afterlife or an ending of a previous time in a person's life.

Barbed wire

Sometimes this tattoo represents the crown of thorns Jesus wore before his crucifixion, but in modern days it is usually used to identify convicts who have been sent to prison for life.


The semicolon here is not just a mark of a committed grammar nerd, but it is a tattoo that has gained massive popularity. It represents mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention.

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