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Key-and-Lock (and Key-and-Heart) Tattoo Designs and Meanings

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

The key-and-lock tattoo design can be worn by both men and women, and since it works in many different sizes, it can be tattooed nearly anywhere on the body. This motif can be combined with other symbols and elements.

We'll show you a variety of key-and-lock tattoo designs and discuss the many meanings of this symbol. We hope that you are able to find ideas and inspiration for your next tattoo.

Protecting What Is Valuable

Before the key and lock were created, men and women had to hide their valuables in creative places: hollow trees, caves, behind rocks, or under the ground. The earliest records of keys and locks date back over 4,000 years, although ancient Greeks have also been credited for inventing the device 2500 years ago.

The key and lock was invented for one purpose, to protect one's valuables. This can mean many different things. Keys can be used to start cars and machines, to imprison people with jails and chains, to protect secret documents and letters, or to keep strangers from invading one's home. Everyone is different when it comes to their interpretation of what is valuable. For some, it may be silver, gold, jewelry, and money. For others, it may be their partner, their children, their family, their faith, their secrets, their privacy. The key-and-lock tattoo can relate to anyone of these. For example, one may choose to get a key-and-lock tattoo with their child's name within the lock, to symbolize protection and the precious nature of one's children.

Variations on the Key-and-Lock Tattoo

This symbol gives rise to unique and mysterious designs. The design can portray a key and lock, key and padlock, a key alone, or a lock alone. Key-and-lock tattoos can be simple in design, with little color or detail, or be decorated with ribbons, jewels, and vibrant colors.

Key and Heart

Most of us have heard the old saying, "You own the key to my heart." A tattoo can embody this metaphor, symbolizing the love between two people. Popular designs may include a heart-shaped padlock, or put a heart shape on the end of the key. When a couple want to symbolize their love for one another, one might get the key tattoo and the other might get the matching lock. A person still waiting for the right person to come along might wear the key-and-heart tattoo, meaning they are still searching for that special someone.

Skeleton Key

The skeleton key, in the real world, is a simple key that can open many different locks. People have fun with the symbolism and often portray a skull in the design somewhere. The design can be a key and lock, or a key alone, with or without colored decorations, ribbons, and chains.

Placing the Tattoo

Some men and women choose to hide their key-and-lock tattoos on their body. Often they hide the key only. One of the most popular places to hide the tattoo is behind the ear; other areas may include the ankles, lower back, or the groin area. Think about it for a moment; if someone does find the key or the lock, you don't want them to find the other. If they find both, you may lose your keepsake.

Possible Meanings of a Key-and-Lock Tattoo

Many different meanings can be associated with the key-and-lock tattoo. Although your tattoo may mean different things in the minds of those who see it, in the end, it means what you want it to mean. Below, you can find some meanings behind the key-and-lock tattoo.

  • Freedom. I and no one else control where I go and what I allow.
  • Locked up. Controlled, but protected.
  • Eternal love. A sturdy device protects our commitment.
  • Change. A turn of the key can make everything different.
  • Keepsake. I'll never forget this relationship.
  • Security, safety, protection. I go to a lot of effort to protect what I love.
  • Valuable. My body is precious and belongs to me alone.
  • Imprisoned, locked away: Prisons of various kinds are real; not all of us are free.
  • New beginning. A turn of the key releases me from a cage into a whole new world. I am free from the past. I was a prisoner, but I made some changes and am moving on to better things.
  • Coupling, joining. Sexual imagery can be subtly conveyed by the key and lock and its surroundings: piercing, penetration, joining, total compatibility. Sometimes the lock or key tattoo inlcudes an illusion of piercing the wearer's skin.
  • Chastity. Of course, there was the medieval chastity belt. A tattoo of a lock doesn't have to mean chastity literally, just that there are defenses against unwanted intrusion.

As you can see, there are several different meanings behind the lock and key tattoo; consider them all and their implications.

Although some choose this tattoo for its symbolic value, others choose it for the art of the design. It can be inked with great detail and decoration, as you can see in the photos. These photos will give you an idea of what is available, plus perhaps a few ideas to work into your key-and-lock tattoo design.

Don't Rush to Get Inked

Before you choose a final tattoo symbol and design, there are some important things to remember. Make sure you take the time to research your tattoo symbol. Make sure you understand what it represents and means. Don't rush to get inked. Those who get inked on impulse usually end up with regrets later on down the road.

Comments

Kristin on October 01, 2019:

What is the significance of an open lock verses a closed lock?

Tricia on April 17, 2019:

I'm a sub and I chose the lock tattoo versus wearing a day collar.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on September 19, 2012:

Adilah, good question actually. I guess it depends on how you look at it. For myself, my wife took my heart. She owns the keys to it. So it would consider it, my wife would have the key. However, it can go both ways. Many that I have seen, it has been the girl with the heart, but it works either way. Great question. Thanks for the comment and for your time. Welcome back anytime.

adilah on September 11, 2012:

should the heart or the key be for the gurl?

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 05, 2012:

Rosemay, appreciate you taking the time to drop by. That is an interesting tattoo. The key and lock tattoo is very unique, interesting, and mysterious. Beautifully designed tattoos for sure.

Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on May 30, 2012:

Such a variety here from the simple to the flambouyant. I am with AE here, if I had one it would be the navel one, neat idea.

Another wonderful hub Ricky.

Hope you are doing well

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on May 29, 2012:

*Lovedoctor, it is great to hear from you again. Many thanks for your time and comment.

*KJ, the pleasure is mine:) I am glad you find interest in tattoos. Many people don't realize the art and symbolic value of them until you pay close attention to such things. Glad to spark your interest.

*Gypsy, thanks again my dear friend. It is always a joy to hear from you. Take care.

*Max, glad that you came by, thanks. I agree. These really look beautiful in color. They are very decorative in some cases. I like those better then the simple ones.

*AE, thanks for taking the time to comment. That one is quite interesting. Very creative to say the least. Best wishes.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 29, 2012:

This is amazing. The navel one is unique. Very interesting...Bravo..

BeyondMax from Sydney, Australia on May 29, 2012:

Very beautiful, I like it in color more than in black, but I suppose there is always a point in everything. Great job!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on May 28, 2012:

Love these colorful lock tattoos.

kjforce from Florida on May 27, 2012:

lyricwriter..nice job as usual,very informative..this series has enlightened me..I would never have thought to inquire/delve into this subject..thanks for sharing..you have done a great job them all....

lovedoctor926 on May 27, 2012:

I love the heart and key tattoo. This is really neat.