The heart is one of the most common tattoo subjects and most importantly it is an endless symbol that is always worthy of discussion. The tattoo icon par excellence is the heart with the word “mum” (o «mom», if your prefer) across it. It is one of the first designs people associate with heart tattoos and it is so widespread that it is considered a stereotype: the most popular and the most traditional of styles.
Heart tattoos that include writing (a name or motto) became popular during the Second World War, especially among American soldiers, who then brought it to Europe. For those soldiers, a tattooed heart was a way of keeping your loved one with you at all times. The tradition came from sailors, who stayed away from home for months on end and were the first to bear this tattoo.
The heart with a dedication is still the most common tattoo. It often has an American traditional design and is either old school or new skool depending on whether you prefer the retro look from 1940s and ‘50s or the more contemporary style with more definite lines and comic-strip type graphics, more details and shading.
An eternal, classic symbol
The heart shape resembles an upside down triangle, pointing downwards. It is a universal symbol of femininity, the pubic triangle and the element of water, which represents gentleness and sensitivity. It is the opposite of fire (represented by a triangle pointing upwards).
The heart is the eternal, classic emblem of love in all its forms and is often used to express romantic love. For centuries, lovers have drawn a heart in the sand as they walk by the shore, or carved one into a tree trunk, putting their own names or initials inside (in more recent times the heart with two names is commonly found on pub or pizza parlour tables and school desks).
One widely held belief in the tattoo world concerns the luck of a couple. It seems that tattooing the name of a loved one is only advised when they have had a child together; tattooing a name before the arrival of a son or daughter could bring bad luck and the couple may spilt up. We don’t know if it’s true but that’s what they say, so now you know…
Following your heart
When we express a strong emotion, either positive or negative, we say it we feel it « with all our heart». An everlasting memory, of an unforgettable person or a great wish that is yet to come true is «close to our heart». A generous person is described as «kind-hearted», or with a «heart of gold», while an insensitive person or evil deed is «heartless» or «breaks our heart».
Giving and dedicating a heart, whatever it is made of, either drawn on a piece of paper or tattooed on the skin, is a declaration of sincere, faithful love. In the timeless language of lovers the heart represents love, unity and warm, breathless feelings but the language has now spread to include friendship, affection, liking, affinity and gratitude. All over the western world, Valentine’s Day has brought the tradition of cards decorated with hearts, now exchanged by both lovers and friends. A heart tattoo symbolises a lasting emotion, which lives and evolves with us through our tattoo too.
The heart tattoo
For anyone who wants to get a tattoo of a heart, there are many possible variations with different meanings. Here are a few examples:
- A heart with stars is a sign of harmony, serenity and happiness and is thought to signal good fortune.
- Two hands holding a heart represent fatherly or motherly love. A typical Irish design is the claddagh ring, which shows two arms and hands holding a heart, often with a crown on top, a symbol that represents eternal unity.
- A heart that bears the colours of a flag is an expression of someone’s love for their country.
- A bright yellow heart, which is associated with the golden heart, is a symbol of a higher consciousness. It symbolises the awareness of belonging to the universe as a whole. Yellow is sometimes chosen for the Sacred Heart tattoo.
- A red heart is the most traditional and most common colour for tattoos, but some people prefer to get a black heart, or a tattooed heart outline filled in with white rather than black ink. In 1999 the white heart was adopted as the universal symbol of nursing.
Alongside the heart with the word «mum» there are other types of hearts with dedications, which are also very popular: a heart with the words «mum and dad», happily drawn together by the tattoo artist, a heart with the name of one’s partner or children. A famous example of this tattoo? The actress Melanie Griffith used a tattoo to declare her great love for her partner Antonio Banderas: the heart contains the name of her loved one and is tattooed on her arm.
The heart with a dedication can be personalized in many, many ways, with just a little imagination. For example, a heart containing an animal paw-print expresses your love for a favourite pet dog or cat (or mouse, hamster, rabbit or whatever). A heart and a flower tattooed together express a kind soul and a love of nature. A smiling heart, with a mouth and eyes drawn on it, signifies happiness and positivity. A pierced heart, usually with an arrow or a dagger through it, indicates that a special love has had a deep effect on someone. A devilish heart, with horns and a tail, is a sign