Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.
When it comes to vintage maritime symbols, the mermaid ranks with the best. This old-school tattoo design first became popular with sailors in the early 1900s. In keeping with its roots, the mermaid tattoo design often includes other nautical symbols like ships, anchors, nautical stars, and starfish.
If you're looking for inspiration and ideas for your next tattoo, read on!
Mermaid Tattoos in History
The mermaid is an ancient figure in many cultures' mythologies. In legends and folklore, the mermaid is often associated with sailors and the open waters. In most of the old stories, mermaids (or sirens) lure sailors with their beautiful singing and appearance and seductive ways. It is believed that they would lure sailors to their watery deaths so they could steal their treasures.
- Two ancient civilizations that mention mermaids specifically are the Greeks and Romans.
- Records show that mermaids were a big influence on coastal empires such as Greece and Rome.
- The Greeks believed that they were created by the union of gods and sea creatures.
- According to the Greeks, mermaids would commonly wait on rocks, trying to lure sailors to their death.
- The Romans and the goddess Venus are both associated with mermaids.
- It is believed that mermaids can only be seen in the light of the moon, so they appear at dusk but disappear at dawn.
Mermaid Tattoo Design Options
- Mermaids are usually pretty, with long, flowing hair and jewel-tone colors.
- Most mermaid tattoos portray slim, long-haired, and young, but you can go against this tradition and choose any size, shape, age, or color mermaid you want.
- The mermaid is often portrayed as a seductive figure with an enticing look on her face or a suggestive posture.
- They are often portrayed with other maritime symbols such as nautical stars, anchors, ships, or tropical flowers.
- They may be portrayed swimming through water or sitting on rocks.
- She might be topless or she may have shells or long, flowing hair covering her breasts.
- They can be depicted realistically or portrayed as cartoon characters, like Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
- You may see mermaids holding fish bone combs, which is an ancient symbol of power and feminine strength, or sea shell jewelry.
- They can also be portrayed with mirrors, which is an association to the moon.
- Mermaid tattoos may portray a mermaid watching the moon or sitting on a rock in the moonlight or in the dark, whether it be the darkness of dawn or the darkness of the deep waters.
- Sometimes, you'll see an evil mermaid. These usually have fire red hair or scales. They may be portrayed with their hair blowing up or around their body like flames and an evil expression on her face.
- Some tattoos may show the mermaid with natural powers, such as moving waves with her breath.
- Sometimes, you'll see a mermaid portrayed as a pinup. Pinup girl tattoos became popular around the same time mermaid tattoos did and both were often worn by sailors.
Mermaid Tattoo Meanings and Interpretations
The mermaid is often seen as a strong female figure, one that is free, independent, and self-directed.
Due to the mermaid's connection with the sea, this tattoo design can symbolize nature, intuition, birth or rebirth, and creation.
Since she is often depicted luring sailors, she might represent danger, seduction, and sexuality.
She might also represent independence, freedom, mystery, a connection to the ocean, being tossed on the waves, or going with the flow.
Some believe that the mermaid represents magic.
Mermaid tattoos with mirrors may represent self value or self worth.
Overall, the mermaid tattoo represents everything about the female. Below, you can find more associated meanings.
Before You Tattoo
- Make sure that you take the time to research your tattoo. Take the time to fully understand what your design means and represents.
- Don't rush to get tattooed! Those that do end up with regrets.
- If you are not sure about a specific design, don't get it inked anyway. Take the time to think about it.
Storm Paterson on March 27, 2020:
Thanks for the description of the Mermaid, I am presuming that the Merman has a similar history, and myth... I have been wanting to have a Mermaid tattoo design for years but haven't found the right one, I have a design in my head but am not much of a scetcher in designing my own. I will look through your designs. Maybe I will find more than inspiration. Your history of Mermaids has added to my image
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on June 16, 2012:
I kindly thank you all for your time and comments. They are greatly appreciated. I apologize for the late reply. I stay so busy anymore and I honestly try my best to keep up. Thanks to all of you! You all are right, the mermaid has a rich tradition in mythology and maritime myths and stories alike. I love history and I am glad that you all enjoyed that part of this article. Best wishes to all of you and see you soon.
Movie Master from United Kingdom on June 14, 2012:
Now these tattoo's are really 'wow'!!
BeyondMax from Sydney, Australia on June 13, 2012:
Wow, so colorful, but some of them are kinda silly =) But cute.
Life Under Construction from Neverland on June 13, 2012:
Wow and Wow! This is lovely :)
i always love mermaid designs, tatoos, photos..this is great!
Annie Fenn from Australia on June 13, 2012:
I can see how these seductive designs would appeal to the guys, but oh, how beautiful are the (female) mermaid tattooed legs, just beautiful body art. Mermaids have always been fascinating to me too. Lovely, informative hub. My votes and best wishes to you, Thelyricwriter.
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on June 12, 2012:
Voted up and awesome. These are really terrif Ricky. I've always loved the little mermaid.
Akhand Pratap SIngh from Lucknow(U.P.) India on June 12, 2012:
As a lover of mythologies and sea's I have always loved mermaids and their stories and now I got to read about tattoos. It was nice read
Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 12, 2012:
Hi my friend,these mermaid tattoos are so colorful and very interesting !
Vote up and more !!!
Steven Gray from Pensacola, Florida on June 12, 2012:
Very interesting. Thanks for compiling the history with some good photographs.
Alastar Packer from North Carolina on June 11, 2012:
Mermaid tats sure do go way back and have a colorful history with mariners. Its cool to read about the mermaid traits and what one can symbolize for an inked female. Great pic selection too Ricky, what amazing style will you have for us next!
Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on June 11, 2012:
Wow what a collection of mermaid tattoos... Thanks for the share...
daskittlez69 from midwest on June 11, 2012:
That is a great tattoo.