Tattoo Designs & Symbols

Based on over ten million tattoo design & symbol searches.

During the full course of the year in 2006, the popularity of certain tattoo designs and symbols tended to become more pronounced.  Over a shorter period of time, fluctuations in seasonal trends, fads and fashion styles made for some interesting tattoo design and symbol searches.  Lindsay Lohan getting a wrist tattoo seriously spiked tattoo design search for "wrist tattoos".  Nick Lachey's appearance - topless, with his tattoos in full view - on the front cover of several well-known celebrity magazines caused a huge surge in the interest in sun and tribal tattoos.  Any mention of Angelina Jolie or Britney Spear's tattoos would see huge spikes in their personal tattoo designs. Hip Hop and Rap stars have become a powerful new source of interest in tattoos with large numbers of searches for the tattoos of 50 Cent, The Game, and many other artists. The Rock and David Beckham generated large number of tattoo design searches. Some tattoo designs made the Weekly or Monthly Top Ten Tattoo Design list once and then never appeared again.  Other tattoos designs swam just below the surface, never breaking out into the Top Ten but remaining as popular tattoo designs and ranking in the Top Twenty-Five Tattoo Designs and Symbols.

A new trend in 2006 was the tremendous number of tattoo design searches that were "symbolic" - we had large numbers of people searching for tattoos that had very specific symbolic meaning.  That tattoo designs have symbolic meaning is no great revelation - after all, we do call our section of the web site Tattoo Designs & Symbols.  The Vanishing Tattoo web site regularly sees high volumes of searches for tattoo designs that symbolize "love", for example, or "devotion". But during 2006, prominent tattoo design searches were people looking for tattoo designs that "symbolize", friendship, strength and eternity. 

A rather strange new development in 2006 was the increasing number of searches for tattoo designs that had no specific symbolic meaning, but were meant for a body part!  The top body part requested was the "lower back", a site for a tattoo that has become ubiquitous with young women and has been disparaged as the "tramp stamp", "California Licence Plate" and most famously in the hit film "The Wedding Crashers" - "It might as well be a bulls-eye", or at least according to Vince Vaughn's character.  Second in popularity was the "wrist tattoo" and trailing in third place was the "armband tattoo"

Alphabetical Listing of Tattoo Symbols & Designs

Without further ado...

The Top Ten Tattoo Designs of 2006 (with a couple of ties thrown in)

Maori tribal heart1. Tribal Tattoos - "Tribal Tattoos" account for nearly a third of all tattoo design search requests, and the term "tribal" of course covers an astonishing array of tattoo design possibilities, from the traditional tribal tattoos of indigenous and aboriginal cultures, to the latest in graphic design for the body.

Of particular interest in 2006 within the tribal tattoo design genre was the incredible interest shown in Maori and Haida tattoo designs.  In fact, Maori and Polynesian tattoo designs were so popular that they would have made the Top Ten Most Popular Tattoo Designs all on their own in 2006. The fascination with tribal tattoo designs just keeps chugging along, and the beautiful curvilinear Maori designs continues to attract those looking for distinctive body art.

Maori tattooing is a distinct school of patterns and graphic designs within Polynesian tattooing. While much of Polynesian tattooing is derived from straight-line geometric patterns (and thought to originate with patterns found on ancient Lapita pottery shards such as have been discovered in Samoa), a design fact which rose in part because the traditional Polynesian tattoo combs are best suited to linear designs, Maori tattooing is essentially curvilinear, and the mainstay of Maori designs are based on the spiral. It should be noted that renowned traditional Hawaiian artist Keone Nunes has demonstrated that it is possible to reproduce complex curved designs using traditional Polynesian tattooing implements.

Leo Zuluetta is the Godfather of the interpretation of modern tribal tattoo as graphic design for the human body, and his early work during the 80's continues to have enormous influence within modern tattooing to this day.

Haida tattoos are popular because of their beautiful representation of Haida family and clan crests, such as the Raven, Eagle, Bear, Killer Whale and many others, all of which are popular tattoo subjects in their own right.

Star tattoos and designs2. Star / Stars - A perennial monthly favorite tattoo design all year long. This tattoo symbol and design was rarely out of the top ten searches for the past twelve months. And finished as the second most popular tattoo design of 2006. This is no doubt a reflection of the rich nautical and maritime history of tattoo designs and symbols.

The nautical star - by far the number one star tattoo design search - is a very old modern tattoo, going back at least a century or more. Back in the days of yore, before modern navigation, sailors would navigate in part by the stars in the night skies, in particular the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere, and various other constellations of stars in the night sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, sailors had to use different stars and the Southern Cross became quite well-known. Sailors would then tattoo nautical stars on them because they relied on the stars to take them home, and being superstitious, they hoped their star tattoos would get them home safely as well.

Compass stars are also popular for this reason. The nautical stars were originally used by sailors to help guide their way as they sailed through the night. They relied upon the stars to protect them and bring them home safely. A lot of soldiers get nautical stars for the same It is a symbol of protection and guidance. It was, and remains a very popular tattoo among sailors.

Stars are often encountered as symbols, and many cases the meaning of a particular star symbol may depend upon the number points it has, and sometimes the orientation of these points as well. As a light shining in the darkness, the star is often considered a symbol of truth, of the spirit and of hope. The symbol of the star embodies the concept of the pine spark within each of us. Their nocturnal nature leads stars to represent the struggle against the forces of darkness and the unknown.

Angel tattoo meanings3. Angel or Angels - The third most popular tattoo design in 2006, heavenly hosts are a popular tattoo design all year round and are a powerful symbol of religious faith. Angels are often used to evoke protection as potent symbols of God's presence and as an expression of one's faith.

As a tattoo design, an angel is a symbol of devotion, spirituality and faith and signifies a relationship with God. An angel can be intended as a figure of guidance and protection. An angel is often used as the centerpiece of a tattoo that is intended as a memorial.

Cross tattoos and designs4. Cross or crosses -  Another  tattoo symbol with strong religious symbolism, and for many North America at least, and certainly at Christmas time, a symbol of faith, hope, belief and sacrifice. A cross, like the angel is also a favorite design choice when wishing to memorialize a family member, friend or fallen comrade. A memorial tattoo is a way to help keep the memory of someone we cherished with us always.

Wing tattoos5. Wings -  Often depicted as angel wings, wings came in at number five in 2006's Top Ten Most Popular Tattoo Designs.

Wings as a tattoo design can often have inspirational or spiritual symbolism. In many myths, wings often have to be earned by their wearer. Wings, often associated with birds, represent speed, elevation, freedom and aspiration.  Wings associated with angels are spiritual, symbolizing enlightenment, guidance and protection - to be taken under the wing - and inspirational.

Wings associated with butterflies, dragonflies, fairies, mythological winged creatures like dragons, griffins, and the winged-horse Pegasus, have an element of the magical about them. As in alchemy and magic, wings can be transformational, allowing an individual access to a previously unattainable state. The presence of wings allows the combination of different elements, earth and sky, wind and fire.

Dragon tattoo designs6. Dragon -  The Dragon tattoo has been among the most popular of tattoo designs for decades and dragon designs show the powerful influence of the design schools of Japan and Asia.

A dragon is a classic tattoo design that shows the influence of Japanese and Chinese culture in western tattooing. This design is popular with both men and women. The art of Japanese tattoo has been traced back as far as 5,000 B.C.

Phoenix tattoo meanings7. Phoenix - The legendary mythological bird of fire, is probably the most popular of all the rebirth and resurrection tattoo designs and symbols. There are stories and fables that touch on the Phoenix myth in the ancient Middle East, India, China and the Greek and Roman Empires. In the myth the Phoenix is an extraordinarily long-lived bird of great beauty and luxuriant plumage. At the end of it's life the Phoenix would build a nest of aromatic twigs, set fire to itself, and be consumed in the funeral pyre of it's own making. After three days the Phoenix would arise from the ashes, reborn.

The Phoenix was originally a symbol of the cycle of the rising and setting of the sun but over time evolved to become a symbol of human resurrection. On Roman coins the phoenix represented an undying Empire. In the early Christian Church the phoenix was a symbol of Christ's resurrection and everlasting life. The phoenix represented the victory of life over death. As a tattoo symbol, the Phoenix can be found in many tattoo genres, but of the Far East in particular. It is a symbol of resurrection, rebirth and regeneration. It also represents purification and transformation through fire and adversity.

Butterfly tattoo designs7. Butterfly -  The ongoing popularity of the butterfly tattoo design shows the tremendous influence that women now have in tattoo culture as the design is overwhelmingly a feminine choice.  The butterfly tattoo design is a strong symbol of rejuvenation and regeneration, with overt feminine qualities. A Top Ten Tattoo Design of nearly every month in  2006. And in the cold, dark months of winter, what more powerful symbol of Spring and new life than the butterfly?

Fairy tattoo designs and symbols8. Fairy - The Fairy, or fairie as a tattoo design, again shows the influence of women within tattoo culture. A fairy tattoo design can be as simple as a take-off on the often overpowering presence of corporate America in pop-culture - think Tinkerbell and Disney creatures - or it harkens back to a rich history of story, myth and folklore. Fairies in literature are often the personification of human wishes and desire in the form of little people with magical powers. As a tattoo design they can be symbols of youthful innocence and a desire to retain a child-like imagination, wonder and awe.

Swallow tattoo designs8. Swallow or Bluebird -  Another example of the great historical influence of nautical and maritime tattoo traditions.  The swallow or bluebird tattoo design is popular with both men and women, much as is the Nautical star.  Some people believe that the bluebird is actually supposed to represent a swift.

After a long, often dangerous journey at sea, the sighting of land birds, which the blue bird (or swift/swallow) represents, was seen as good luck. When a sailor had logged 5,000 miles at sea he would get a bluebird on one side of his chest. After logging 10,000 miles he would get a second bluebird tattooed on the other side! A pair of bluebirds is the sign of the well traveled.

Lion tattoo designs9. Lion - The Lion is an ancient symbol, one that has been incorporated into the religion and mythology of numerous cultures and civilizations since recorded time around the Middle East, India, throughout Africa and bordering the Mediterranean. Lions once roamed the southern reaches of Europe. The influence of the power of the Lion's symbolism can be seen in it's representation in both Chinese and Japanese art and mythology, both cultures beyond it's range.

The Lion was often used as a symbol of Royalty, as in many cultures it was considered the "King of the Beasts". In early Christianity, as Jesus was seen to be the "King of Kings", he was often represented by a Lion, and a Lion was the symbol of St. Mark. The Lion is mentioned many times in the Bible and the time when a Lion lays with a Lamb is seen as the dawning of a New Age. The Lion or Leo, is one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac and represents the Sun.

The Lion symbolizes pine and solar power, royal authority, victory, fortitude, pride, nobility, cunning, strength, courage, justice and protection, fairness and just laws, and images of the Lion have long been used to protect sacred ground. A Lion tattoo may represent some aspects of these qualities to it's wearer and the Lion is seen as a powerful Guardian figure and protector.

Sun tatoo designs10. Sun - The Sun as a tattoo design is a reflection of the Sun's profound symbolic nature in most cultures around the world. The sun was worshipped as a personified, life-giving deity in Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and almost every other major civilizations of history. The Sun or Sun figure was almost always the predominant figure within the pantheon of those spiritual belief systems.

Nearly every culture has a creation myth that explains how the sun came into being, and often times an accompanying apocalypse myth that details the end of the world, as we know it, when the sun is destroyed or devoured in some manner. Many cultures have myths that explain the rising and the setting of the sun, and this repeating cycle of light and dark has come to symbolize life and death, regeneration and reincarnation.

As a tattoo design and symbol, a Sun represents fertility, vitality, passion, courage and eternally renewed youth, light and knowledge. When looking at some of the popular tattoo designs, note the following, in various cultures in the history of man, the Sun was represented by the following; an Eagle, an Eagle with a Serpent, a Winged Serpent (Dragon), a Falcon (Egyptian God Horus), Phoenix, Swan, Lion, Ram, Cock or Bull. The Sun could be further represented by the Heart symbol, A Rosette or Rose, the Lotus, the Sunflower and the Chrysanthemum. An examination of the most popular tattoo designs will show an amazing correlation with the above mentioned symbols.

Other popular tattoo designs during 2006 were heartsflowers - the rose and lotus in particular, Celtic designs, Japanese kanji symbols, Chinese characters, tigers, koi fish, Zodiac symbols, swords and daggers, pin-up girls, bears, bulls, skulls, snakes, spiders and scorpions.

For great tattoo design ideas, check out our good friends at

Alphabetical Listing of Tattoo Symbols & Designs

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