More Than Meets the Eye: Small Tattoos With Big Meanings

John Dietrich

Size matters for some things, but when it comes to tattoos, it’s more about what it means to you. Small tattoos with meanings that aren’t obvious at first glance are one of the most popular types of ink across the board, so we wanted to find out more. We asked readers for the stories behind their small, yet meaningful tattoos to see just how strong of a symbol a piece of ink can be.

The Power of Music

Music is a powerful force. It can alter and create moods, and, for many, it provides a kind of support that can’t be found in anything else. For Melissa Meade, music was her biggest comfort through times of great sorrow. What may look like simple lines of text actually hold a lot of meaning for this wearer. All five of her tattoos are lyrics from various “songs that have saved my life, and got me through 2 of the most atrocious heartbreaks one could imagine”. For her, they’re tangible symbols of her own strength, “when I look at them, I see my courage and know I can survive anything life hands me”.

Gaining Perspective

Turtle Tattoo Idea

Sometimes all you need is to look down at your tattoos to remind yourself that things could always be worse. Jme Thomas has a friend who’s battling cancer, so she got a turtle tattoo with the initial ‘L’ worked into the design in honor of her friend, “it is her favorite animal and they are both graceful and strong, as well as endangered – i.e. vulnerable…it’s on my wrist so that every day, I can see it and be reminded that my day probably isn’t that bad – and to keep things in perspective”.

Zelda Tattoo

Jme has a second tattoo to honor someone special in her life, that being her beloved dog, Zelda, who tragically passed away as a result of veterinary negligence, “the other [tattoo] is for my dog who was burned to death by the vet”. Zelda was having a routine dental procedure done and was left on a heating pad too long, resulting in severe 4th degree burns.

This horrible experience inspired Jme to create an animal rescue PSA to notify other pet owners that this happens in vet clinics. Zelda has become the patroness saint of this movement, and Jme wanted her tattoo to reflect that, “I asked the artist to make Zelda look like Joan of Arc, because she ended up being a ‘saint’ for so many other animals who have been spared her fate”.

Elana Script Tattoo Idea

Small tattoos with meaning can be a significant way to memorialize someone, while also helping with the lasting grief that comes from losing someone you love. For Elana Cohen, that person is her mother, “I lost my mother 13 years ago when she commited suicide. I always knew I wanted a tattoo to memorialize her, but I never knew what [to get]. When the 6th anniversary rolled around of her passing it finally came to me”. Elana decided that the best way to do this was to have her mother’s handwriting traced onto her as a tattoo.

Before she passed, Elana’s mother left both her and her sister a note and a copy of the classic children’s book ‘I Will Love You Forever, I’ll Like You For Always’ by Robert Munsch, “On the front inside cover my mom wrote ‘I will love you forever & EVER’ in her very distinct handwriting. I took that book to the tattoo parlor had them trace her handwriting and I was ready to go”.

The final product was overwhelming for Elana, “When I saw the finished product I broke down in tears – happy tears though. It literally looked like my mom had written right onto my skin. I finally had a piece of her to carry with me forever”. Now, whenever she’s missing her mom she just looks at her ink, “every time…I look at the tattoo, I remember she is always with me. It is also a reminder to me what happened to her”.

Her tattoo isn’t just a reminder of her personal loss, but she hopes that her small tattoo will help to bring awareness to the “fight against the negative stigma towards mental illness, and lower the rising suicide rates”.

Religious Heartbreak

A tattoo can be a necessary reminder of tough things that we’ve overcome, and for Natasha Williams, that means having her heart broken by religion. She was raised in a strictly religious household, which she likens to a cult. Her Jehovah’s Witness upbringing is dark memory from her childhood:

…the Jehovah’s Witnesses world is a very dark and terrifying place, carpeted with traps that lead to enslavement to Satan and eventual destruction. My parents were taught, and therefore taught me, that we were part of a righteous and persecuted minority who were fighting to survive in a world filled with the wicked slaves of Satan. Those ‘worldly’ people wanted nothing more than to drag Jehovah’s Witnesses into lives of ‘sin’, so that we would die at Armageddon with them.

She and other Jehovah’s Witnesses around her had to meet specific requirements in order to be considered good Christians, “we were required to attend three Jehovah’s Witness gatherings every week to review the materials that the organization behind this cult had written and assigned to us”. She was discouraged from reading anything that wasn’t published by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and that if she did, she shouldn’t believe what it said, “They decide what the bible means and tell their followers which of God’s rules must be followed”.

As she started to grow up, she began questioning the ‘truths’ that she had been taught were so important to spiritual survival, “When I reached my teens, and my brain started questioning these beliefs…I got in trouble. I was taught toxic things as a child that no one could substantiate. Even when those things didn’t make any sense”.

Natasha was even told to steer clear of what devout Jehovah’s Witnesses call ‘worldly’ kids in her class, meaning that she wasn’t allowed to take part in any classroom celebrations, or interact with her classmates if they weren’t part of the religion.

Continuing education after high school was also discouraged by the Church in favor of becoming full-time servants to the congregation, “When I turned 18 I wasn’t encouraged to go to college and gain an education and have a career…I was encouraged to become a full-time member… knocking on doors for at least 90 hours per month”. This proved to be the last straw for Natasha, “I couldn’t live the lie any longer – I knew there was more for me”.

Natasha’s family shunned her, and she was disfellowshipped from her religion. “In the years since, I have been on a long but necessary journey…I travelled, loved, hurt, experienced life, as one does. I don’t regret a moment”. Despite all she’s been through with her experience in organized religion, she hasn’t turned her back on the concept of being a religious person, “The JW’s broke my heart…However, since [then], I have found a way to continue to grow and learn spiritually…and I still believe in a God”.

She now has her own family of 3 children, who she hopes will follow the footsteps she has taken to enjoy life and be open to new experiences, “Life is huge, there are beginnings and endings, there are broken hearts and triumphs. There are a lot of things we don’t know, and we can’t predict tomorrow, and that is what makes life worth living”. Her tattoo is a small, but hugely meaningful, reminder of that.

A Token of the Good Times

Bill's Tunafish Tattoo

Tattoos can be the perfect, if not sometimes regrettable, way to remember good times. Bill Fish has a college dare to thank for his ink, “I played college baseball at Xavier University here in Cincinnati, and we had an off day my freshman year and someone dared me to get a tattoo”. This was the pre-internet era, so it was up to Bill to come up with his own idea, “In my mind, I had ‘Charlie Tuna’ from Starkist Tuna, holding a baseball bat, with the last name of ‘Fish’, I thought it made some sense, so got it on my left shoulder”.

Although his mom hated it, “she considered taking me out of this world”, Bill has embraced and learned to love what could have been considered a tattoo he regretted, “Even though I haven’t played baseball in nearly 20 years, it is an interesting reminder of my youth. I’ve taken it so far, I actually had the tattoo designed into letterhead that I write notes from”. This small tattoo not only serves as a reminder of the good ol’ days, it reminds Bill to look on the lighter side every now and then, “sometimes I think we take life a bit too seriously, and looking at that tattoo brings me back to 1996 and gives me a smile pretty much every time”.

Looking for a Sign

Dannielle's Small Tattoo Design Idea

Dannielle Boozer’s tattoo came as a result of finding the sign she was looking for, and wanting to get a permanent reminder of that. Dannielle’s aunt passed away from a drug overdose a few years ago, and as a religious person, Dannielle has struggled with the idea of her aunt getting into heaven, “I had an internal debate, as I was unsure of whether I should expect to see her again one day in Heaven due to the manner in which she passed. There are some who would say that, since she died while doing something that was not of God, she may not be ‘allowed’ to pass into Heaven”.

After attending the funeral, Dannielle remembers sitting on a lakeside dock, asking God for a sign, “As I do sometimes, I asked Him for a sign; in particular a shooting star as confirmation that she was with Him in Heaven. It felt like an appropriate request as there were nights that we spent time laying on a blanket with her stargazing, and I hadn’t seen a shooting star in many years”. Roughly half an hour later, feeling slightly dejected, she turned to head back inside, “about halfway, though, I turned around for one last glance. When I did, the biggest, brightest shooting star I have ever seen beamed across the sky; and I immediately broke down in tears of joy”.

It was this experience that inspired Dannielle to get a shooting star tattoo “as a reminder of God’s love and faithfulness”. She got the inspiration for a specific design idea 5 years later, took it to an artist, and after some reworking of the original idea, came out with the final result. Dannielle’s tattoo is the perfect example of a small tattoo with meaning way beyond what you would expect when looking at it, as, she says, different people seem to see different things in the tattoo, “It’s…really cool how many people see something other than a shooting star. Some have told me they see the blood Jesus shed on the cross, and some say they see a path to the cross, both of which touch me very deeply”. She doesn’t believe she came up with this tattoo idea, though, “I’ve actually come to the conclusion that God gave me this vision for a reason, as it tells the full story in one design”.

Tattoos don’t have to hold meaning, but when they’re you come up with a tattoo design with certain experiences in mind, they take on a huge amount of meaning to the person who has it. Tattoos are a great physical reminder of what you’ve overcome, what you can achieve, and what you want to remember – all you have to do is look at your ink.

Small Tattoo with Big Meanings Photo: sanamauricie

Do you have a small tattoo that has big meaning? Let us know in the comments!

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