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Heart tattoos, just like star tattoos, have always been popular, and we usually associate them with the old school Sailor Jerry flash type of tattooing. The heart symbol can have a lot of meanings, the most obvious one being Love...
Here’s the typical scenario:
A couple, wanting to express undying love for one another, get matching heart tattoos with each other’s names written across the heart image, perhaps on a sort of banner. Flames or roses may be used to further embellish the heart tattoo image.
A few years later, when the couple go their separate ways, each is left with an indelible reminder – and a dilemma regarding what to do with it. Some people opt to get their heart tattoo designs filled in, to obscure the name – others opt for tattoo removal.
Still others decide that it’s part of their history, they’ll just have to live with. In any case, heart tattoos and love tattoos have been the cause of embarrassment and regret ;-)
The combination of heart tattoos and names started in the beginning of the 20th century when sailors wore red heart tattoos with the word Mom in the centre. Later, during World War II, soldiers wore heart tattoos with the name of their girlfriend or wife. In both cases they acted as a kind of lucky charm.
Besides love, the heart as a symbol has other meanings as well:
- The soul: people used to believe that the heart is the location of the human soul
- In many religions, the heart has a mystical importance. Christians believe it is the seat of emotions (more particularly love) and Islam sees the heart as the spiritual centre
- In Ancient Egypt myths, the heart was weighed against the feather of Ma'at (the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth)
Where the actual shape of the heart symbol comes from is another matter. It doesn't really look like a human heart, more like a cow's heart (historically, people saw a lot more cow hearts than human hearts).
The heart shape as we know it probably comes from the shape of the female buttocks or breasts. It could also be a stylized depiction of two people kissing.
The heart is such a powerful and universal symbol that it’s unlikely heart tattoos will ever disappear entirely.
Heart Tattoo Designs
Nowadays, the symbol has become considerably more versatile, with less potential for embarrassment and there is a big variety of tattoo designs:
- The Tribal Heart: a heart tattoo done in simple black lines, with no names mentioned – is timeless and classy. There are many varieties of tribal heart tattoos. More about tribal tattoos...
- The Sacred Heart Tattoo : the sacred heart is usually depicted as a flaming heart surrounded by thorns. This Christian symbol stands for the heart of Jesus Christ and the divine love for humanity. Sacred heart tattoos express the wearer's devotion to Jesus Christ.
- The Pierced Heart Tattoo: a heart pierced by an arrow stands for romantic love. Cupid (a cherub) shoots people to make them fall in love.
- Rose Heart Tattoos: hearts and roses are an obvious combination, both being a symbol of love. More about Rose Tattoos...
- The Broken Heart Tattoo: usually signifies the loss of someone or unreciprocated love.
- Bleeding Heart Tattoo: has the same meaning as broken heart tattoos.
- The Claddagh Heart: the Claddagh is a beautiful symbol that comes from 17th century Ireland. You many have seen the more common ring version, but the images translate very well into tattoo art. The Claddagh heart is a composition consisting of a heart with a hand on either side, and a crown on top of it. The hands denote friendship, the heart love, and the crown loyalty. Women in Ireland would wear the Claddagh ring in their right hand with the heart facing outward when they were ‘available’, then turn it inward when they were betrothed. A Claddagh ring on the left hand means that the woman is happily married. More about Irish Tattoos...
- The "Realistic" Heart: some heart tattoos display a more realistic human heart, complete with veins. This certainly adds some ‘edge’ to heart tattoo designs...
- The Celtic Heart Tattoo: aka the love knot tattoo. The Celtic heart tattoo stands for a union of souls. More about Celtic Tattoos...
- Heart with Wings Tattoos: a heart tattoo with wings may have several meanings: perhaps love has ‘flown away’, or a loved one has died. On the other hand, it could also mean that one is a "free spirit".
- The Heart and Dagger Tattoo: a heart and dagger tattoo can mean lost love or betrayal.
- The Heart Lock Tattoo: the heart and lock stand for eternal love. Usually partners have a matching tattoo: one has the lock, the other one the key.
In short, heart tattoos are unusually eloquent and expressive tattoo images, which accounts for their continued popularity despite the fact that they are sometimes considered ‘cheesy’ or overly sentimental!
Janis Joplin's Heart Tattoo
The most copied heart tattoo design must be that of the late Janis Joplin. She had a small heart tattoo on her left breast, done by the famous tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle (San Francisco). In an interview in 1971 he tells that he had done that design over a 100 times since Joplin's death just that fall.
Celebrities With Heart Tattoos
- Heather Locklear: actress with a heart and rose tattoo on her ankle.
- Lindsay Lohan: has a small heart on her hand.
- Courtney Love: singer, has a fairy tattoo combined with 2 hearts.
- Jennifer Aniston: actress with a small heart tattoo on her shoulder (done for Friends?).
- Billy Joe Armstrong: vocalist and guitarist for Green Day, has a very small black heart tattooed.
- Pete Doherty: has a heart with the letter K on the inside (for Kate Moss) on his left shoulder.
- Kate Moss: has a very small heart tattoo on her left hand.
- Minnie Driver: actress with a heart and dagger tattoo on her left arm.
- Faith Evans: singer with a heart (Faye & Todd).
- Eve: rapper with a heart tattooed on her right arm.
- Melanie Griffith: actress, has a heart tattoo with her husband's name "Antonio" on the inside (right shoulder).
- Goldie Hawn: actress with a small blue heart tattoo on her ankle, done in Tahiti for her 60th birthday.
- Nicky Hilton: has a heart with wings on her wrist.
- Jordan: model with 2 small hearts on her foot.
- Ricky Martin: singer with a rose heart tattoo.
- Ewan McGregor: has a heart and dagger tattooed on his right arm with the names of his family members (daughters Clara and Esther and wife Eve).
- Alyssa Milano: actress with a sacred heart tattoo on her butt.
- Mandy Moore: has a very small heart design on one of her toes.
- Kelly Osbourne: has a small heart on her abdomen and a pink heart on her pinky.
- Julia Roberts: has a heart on her shoulder.
- Tila Tequila: internet superstar with a winged heart on her right arm and another with the words 'Putla Vie" on her left arm.
- Tifanny Amber Thiessen: actress with a green heart tattoo on her stomach.
- Ville Valo: has a heartagram (combination of a heart and a pentagram) on his neck and belly and a heart tattoo on his right wrist.
- Evan Rachel Wood: has a black heart tattoo on her left thigh
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