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Although the essence of a tattoo is to add symbols that can be easily recognized by others, we can also use tattoos with secret meanings if we need to be discreet or create a more personal connection.
These tattoos can be more cryptic and ambiguous, with their actual or intended meaning only deciphered by the wearer or a select few.
Apart from the more intimate tattoos such as names, dates of birth, and custom symbols, there are many symbols that can imply secret meanings without being too obvious.
With that said, let’s look at these 25 symbol tattoos with secret meanings.
1. Alchemy Symbols
Secret Meaning: Transformation and enlightenment
Alchemy is considered a medieval practice with the sole intention of converting (or transmuting) regular metals into gold.
Certain symbols used in this pseudoscience, in particular, the four elements: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air, are extensively used in tattoos to denote personal or hidden meanings.
In most cases, they represent the fundamental elements of the physical realm, tied in with themes of transformation and enlightenment.
Secret Meaning: Mental health awareness and suicide prevention
Although regular people at a glance would consider the wearer of a semicolon to be a passionate writer, the power of this punctuation mark is to tell a story or explain a concept with a deep meaning behind it.
For the uninitiated, a semicolon tattoo symbolizes the importance of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The mark indicates that similar to a semicolon, which didn’t end a sentence, a person chose not to end their life despite being overwhelmed by their condition.
3. Roman Numerals
Secret Meaning: Any special number
It’s undeniable that Roman Numerals look great as tattoos. They are heavily featured in most designs since, unlike the curvy Arabic Numerals, they stand out much more and are open to different fonts and ornate decorations.
Besides their elegant and versatile qualities, these characters can be used in tattoos to denote dates and numbers that have a personal meaning to the bearer. For instance, you can tattoo a birthday, lucky number, funeral, or wedding anniversary.
The possibilities are endless with Roman Numerals, and only you or your loved ones will be able to guess what it is.
Secret Meaning: It’s not over
Derived from the Latin word “et,” which denotes the same meaning as “and,” the Ampersand symbol is used in tattoos to represent a slightly more askew definition.
Apart from the more apparent symbolism of connection, affection, and the interconnecting of two ideas, the Ampersand (&) character symbolizes continuation and infinity. It reminds the wearer that tomorrow is a new day and that there’s more to their story.
Although loosely tied in with the grim depiction of the semicolon, the Ampersand takes on a cheery outlook and invites the bearer to look towards the future with hope and ambition.
Secret Meaning: Life, love, passion, and death
The Heartbeat tattoo (or EKG Line) puts up a front as a symbol of life, love, passion, and rebirth. There are tons of variations for this tattoo, where most include a name, heart shape, or flatline in the middle to profess their love (with the latter symbolizing their heart skipping a beat”).
On the flip side, Heartbeat tattoos depict the grim reality of death. So, if you see a heartbeat tattoo with a date or a flatline at the end, it’s always to commemorate a loved one who’s passed away.
6. Laurel Wreath
Secret Meaning: Victory and triumph, wrongful conviction
Synonymous with victory and triumph, the Laurel Wreath tattoo marks an achievement in one’s life. Whether graduating college or overcoming a difficult period, the Laurel Wreath, in the conventional sense, has always symbolized success and achievement.
However, the Laurel Wreath can also denote an exaggeration of the phrase “resting on your Laurels,” depicting a person’s descent into the “dark side” where they’ve intentionally abandoned their morals and virtues.
In that definition, the Laurel Wreath (or the leafless wreath variation) is regarded as a prison tattoo portraying a wrongfully convicted individual who’s now lost their innocence.
Secret Meaning: Proud of your lineage, supremacy
The Double Helix is a mesmerizing shape, and it’s to be expected that some people will have incorporated this symbol of “DNA” into their tattoos either purely due to the aesthetics or because of its interpretation.
The DNA structure on tattoos symbolizes life and pride. It shows that you celebrate life and are proud of your lineage. However, despite being a timeless symbol that can be included in various designs or elements, some may exaggerate the meaning behind the DNA tattoo, often connoting negative themes of purity and supremacy: implying that the holders bear “superior genes.”
Secret Meaning: Any interpretation you give it
Glyphs, composed of simple shapes such as triangles, lines, circles, squares, and waves, can have dozens of combinations, each with a personal interpretation.
Glyphs as tattoos can be ideal if you’re trying to secure a personal message or interpretation within a symbol you’ve created yourself.
Secret Meaning: Freedom, loneliness
Due to their fierce yet majestic appearance, Eagles are incorporated in tons of tattoos purely due to aesthetic purposes. But regardless of the tattoo, the interpretations of strength, courage, and patriotism are always on full display.
That said, the tattoo symbol of the Eagle holds a more serious interpretation. It highlights that despite being free, you weather the risk of living alone and surviving by yourself, making sacrifices along the way.
10. Three Small Dots
Secret Meaning: Time, cycle of life, prison life
Commonly considered a minimal triangle or three dots representing time and the cycle of life, these minimal tattoos, within specific configurations and body placements, are seemingly harmless.
However, the three dots – often arranged as triangles – placed on the face; next to the eyes is a direct interpretation of “Mi Vida Loca” or “My Crazy Life.” In this particular arrangement and body placement, these tattoos represent prison life and are also said to be used by gangs to intimidate others or identify their members.
11. Barbed Wire
Secret Meaning: Strength, courage, imprisonment, criminal behavior
Although it initially symbolizes positive aspects such as strength, courage, and faith, tattoos incorporating barbed wire are often used to depict death, suffering, and imprisonment.
Barbed wire armbands, roses, crosses, and hearts are always open to various interpretations. Sometimes depicting the positives and negatives of loyalty, war, and religion can be contradictory. However, it’s always up to the wearer to interpret them in whichever way they want.
Besides that, a single barbed wire knot is commonly tattooed on mafia members, symbolizing their affinity for criminal behavior or time spent in prison.
12. Koi Fish
Secret Meaning: Strength, determination
Koi Fish has become a popular subject in tattoos because of their association with the Yin and Yang symbol and Japanese culture. Other than that, the Koi Fish also represents strength, determination, and wealth.
However, Koi Fish tattoos are commonly worn by Yakuza members. As such, there’s a certain stigma associated with Koi Fish tattoos because of this association, specifically the yellow-colored species.
13. Cross on the Chest
Secret Meaning: Faith, Russian mob
Although outsiders might regard it as a symbol of faith, the cross on the chest is predominant in Russian prison tattoos, symbolizing a higher-up of the Russian mob.
These crosses are always representations of the Russian Orthodox Church and, as such, will feature Christ and similar decorative elements.
14. Dagger Piercing a Rose
Secret Meaning: Betrayal, heartbreak, loss of maturity and innocence
Combining two staples of the American Traditional style of tattoos, the Dagger piercing a Rose is a very prominent tattoo.
In the conventional sense, the Dagger and Rose tattoo design has multiple positive and negative definitions, often standing in for betrayal, the ups and downs of life, heartbreak, and beauty.
However, the Dagger stabbing through the Rose can also represent maturity and the loss of innocence. It’s a rare prison tattoo that showcases the wearer as a seasoned inmate who’s finally overcome his previous inhibitions and accepted his fate.
15. Clown’s Face
Secret Meaning: Despair, hopelessness, gang members
Although some may believe it’s directly inspired by the Joker of the DC comic universe, tattoos of Clowns Faces, often with a cheerful demeanor, are used to identify Asian and Latino gang members.
They often represent phrases associated with criminals, such as “Laugh now, cry later” and “my happy life, my sad life.” Meanwhile, the faces of enraged or aggressive clowns can be a stand-in for crime, despair, and incarceration.
Secret Meaning: Good luck charm
Originating from Native American culture, the Dreamcatcher, as the name suggests, is used to ward off bad dreams, nightmares, and influences from negative spirits. As a tattoo, it has an aesthetic design, and its supposed ability to protect the wearer is a bonus.
However, in addition to its conventional definition, the Dreamcatcher tattoo is also said to be a good luck charm that grants the bearer material wealth while removing the negative influences of other people.
As such, not only does it work in the spiritual realm, but also said to manifest success and riches in the material.
17. Opened Delta
Secret Meaning: Transformation, new beginnings
The delta symbol, often represented as a triangle in tattoos, is said to represent a portal into new beginnings.
In that same regard, tattoos with this triangular delta character can symbolize that you’re beginning a new phase in your life.
However, an opened delta, where the triangle isn’t fully enclosed with a small portion left out (often with an arrowhead on the top), represents the wearer is open to embracing change and moving forward.
Secret Meaning: Overcoming difficulties, completion of sailing milestones
Often regarded by sailors as a protection charm or a mark of celebration, tattoos of the Swallow bird imply that a sailor has completed a milestone covering 5,000 nautical miles or returned from a long journey.
Changing course from that definition, the Swallow symbolizes a person’s recovery from a deadly illness or ailment. For instance, a colored swallow can represent that their wounds have completely healed or been cured of cancer.
19. Solid Black Armbands
Secret Meaning: Mourning
Although perceived as contemporary tattoo pieces often reminiscent of minimalism and the modern style of blackout tattoos, the concept of wearing solid black armbands comes from an age-old tradition.
Back then, black armbands were used to signify that the person is mourning. So with that definition, it’s said that many people sport the black armband tattoo to express that they are permanently mourning the death of a loved one.
Secret Meaning: Imprisoned
The symmetry and intricacy of cobwebs make for great tattoos, especially if placed on elbows or knees. In essence, the Cobweb symbolizes destiny (the web of fate), the circle of life, and one’s yearning to be with family, and loved ones, often tattooed on sailors or laborers who work overseas.
However, the spider web tattoo is said to be a prison tattoo, signifying that the wearer is “trapped” with no way out.
As such, it originated as a tattoo signifying incarceration – often with ties to supremacy groups – but has since reached mainstream status.
Secret Meaning: Hope, stability, being held back
During the old days, tattoos of anchors were only worn by sailors who loved their job and the oceans. After it reached mainstream status as a symbol that can be worn by both sexes, the Anchor created new definitions, symbolizing safety, hope, and commitment.
However, its definition of remaining grounded or committed can also be exaggerated, symbolizing that a person is trapped in a relationship or held back because of something or someone in their life.
Secret Meaning: Mourning, gang culture
Although it’s become a popular motif thanks to pop culture, the Teardrop tattoo still has a lot of stigmas associated with it, as most people would prefer not to tattoo teardrops on their face, even if they’ve got ink on their face already.
Although the positive connotations signify mourning a loved one, the teardrop tattoo is synonymous with gang culture.
So in these negative contexts, it signifies that a person has committed murder, served time in prison, or been humiliated by other inmates.
23. Five-Pronged Crown
Secret Meaning: Victory, royalty, gang culture, victim of sex trafficking
Undeniably, a crown tattoo represents victory, strength, royalty, and ambition, so if you’re aspirational, you might consider a crown tattoo.
However, it’s best to hold off on that decision as Crown tattoos, specifically the five-pronged crown, are said to be a motif of the Latin Kings, a Hispanic criminal organization operating in Chicago and New York.
On top of that, women with crown tattoos – often with names or initials alongside them – are said to be victims of human sex trafficking.
Secret Meaning: Tranquility, enlightenment, Buddhism
The Om character is synonymous with totality, tranquility, and spiritual enlightenment and is considered a mantra and an essential symbol in the Hindu religion.
The design is no doubt stylish, but some people would consider its presence as body art to be disrespectful to the culture. It’s always good to get a tattoo and understand what it means.
25. Clock with No Hands
Secret Meaning: Live your best life, losing track of time
Tattoos of clocks are common motifs and hold significance as an icon constantly reminding the wearer of their mortality: usually regarded as a symbol to motivate a person to live their best life.
Apart from that, it also represents a special moment in time, such as the time of birth of a child or commemorating a special occasion, often with the date included.
However, the clock with no hands is a subtle variation that implies that the wearer is losing track of time. It’s considered to have origins as a prison tattoo as convicts with long or indefinite sentences would mark it on themselves to signify that they’ve adjusted to prison life and have no desire or hope to return to civilization.
Tattoos of different symbols are always open to interpretation. Because of this, certain tattoos can leave different impressions on people, which might often lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
So even if you can’t change other people’s perceptions, you can do your best to guide your designs such that they fall in line with your intentions.
Getting tattooed is a big deal, and some symbols may carry a lot of weight than others. Therefore, we highly recommend you study the symbols and concepts of your favorite designs before advancing to the needle.
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