Choosing a tattoo

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos?

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: December 15, 2020
What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos?

For hundreds of years, anchors have been a widely used motif for tattoos and especially among sailors. Because of this they have become a classic emblem in skin art. Of course you don't need to actually work at sea to choose it as a tattoo. In fact, many people choose to get an anchor tattoo due to it's meaning.

In this oneHOWTO article we're going to explain the meaning behind anchor tattoos so you can understand why it's such a popular tattoo and perhaps even why you should choose it as your next tattoo. Keep reading to learn more!

You may also be interested in: What Is the Meaning Behind Star Tattoos?

Christian meaning

The first and most well-known meaning of anchor tattoos has to do with its direct link with the sea, which is why it has become an iconic image for sailors, fishermen and naval servicemen. The anchor is a representation of stability and returning to dry land after sailing, so it has become an essential emblem for those working at sea.

In fact, the actual anchor was a symbol of Christianity and many sailors got an anchor tattoo before setting sail across the Atlantic for the first time. Its Christian symbolism was often hidden. There was often a lot of persecution of (and by) Christians when it came to sailing the seas and interacting with different nationalities and communities. An anchor tattoo might be used to cover up a hidden image of a crucifix. This was the bearer could claim it was not religiously affiliated. The anchor itself for many represents Jesus Christ and his death.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - Christian meaning

Symbol of strength

The anchor represents strength and stability, because that is the function of this object: to keep the boat fixed to the seafloor so as not to drift away. For this reason anchor tattoos are a representation of strength of character or strong beliefs; a reminder to stand firm in the face of any problem, conflict or storm.

Many sailed seas for different reasons. One common type of sailor was that of any of the myriad navies across the world. Some of them have particular meanings. If you see an anchor with a globe superimposed on it and an eagle atop the globe, you will know that person was likely in the US Navy. This is because the globe represents the idea that the US Navy is in serve to the world and not just its own country.

It was adopted in 1955 when post-war American patriotism was still in full swing. At this time on the world stage of global politics, the USA very much saw it as the world's policeman. It is possible to see it today as something more jingoistic and featuring some of the more negative aspects of globalization. Some other navy tattoos might have USN or simply the word NAVY tattooed across it. British Navy tattoos might also have the Union Jack flag or a crown to represent Queen and country.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - Symbol of strength

Emotional meaning

One of the most important meanings of anchor tattoos is linked to the emotional level. Just as the anchor for the sailor is representative of his hope to return home safely and of his trust in the sea, this symbolism also translates to our relationships: the anchor being the bond that unites us to our loved ones, holding us close to those people that we appreciate. As such it is common to see anchor tattoos with names or initials. It is very common to see someone with an anchor tattoo which has the words “mum” and/or “dad” tattooed around it.

Many couples and close friends use this symbol to get tattooed, engraving the affection and attachment that connects them into their skin. Originally for the sailors, it was also a way of remembering those they had left behind at home and taking courage on rough voyages.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - Emotional meaning

Symbol of protection

And returning to the superstitions of sailors, who were not only the first in the Western world to use tattoos, but also the first to use the anchor as a symbol to etch into the skin. We cannot forget the power that is vested this object. It offers protection and security to whoever carries an anchor tattoo, shielding them forever from adversity. The royal marines were the next to follow the trend, as they started wearing this tattoo in the 1900s.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - Symbol of protection

The history of anchor tattoos

The history of anchor tattoos cannot be detailed without talking about Sailor Jerry. Sailor Jerry, real name Norman Keith Collins, was a tattoo artist who helped bring the at one stage underground world of tattooing to the mainstream. If you have heard the name before, you might recognize it from the eponymous rum bottles which also bear images done in his Sailor Jerry style.

While he may not have originated the style, he was one of the people who increased its popularity. One of his most popular tattoos was the Sailor Jerry anchor which has its own style with a rope twisted around it and stars beside it. If you have an anchor tattoo, it's quite possibly you were inspired by or are honoring the history of tattooing itself. If you have a sailor Jerry anchor tattoo, this is likely. These anchor tattoos are also often accompanied by life mottoes which reflect this lifestyle such as “hold fast”, “live free” or “rocked in the cradle of the deep”.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - The history of anchor tattoos

The anchor as a symbol

The anchor tattoo is also similar to some pre-existing symbols. We have already discussed Christianity and it bears a certain similarity to the christos or “Chi Rho” symbol. This symbol was apparently seen by the emperor Constantine in a dream. He used it on his soldier's shields who won on the filed of battle which ushered the Christian faith into a great period of growth and essentially helped it spread across the world (again the anchor and sailing come together).

It is also similar to the Egyptian Ankh symbol, the symbol for life. This brings together the feminine and masculine sides of humanity. The longer part representing the male sexual organ and the female being represented by the round end, both together in the one piece.

What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos? - The anchor as a symbol

Other tattoos

Many anchor tattoos also come with another symbol surrounding it. These different symbols besides the anchor tattoo (or sometimes around it) symbolize different things. These include:

  • Rope or chain: if there is a rope or chain around the anchor this can symbolize a "fouled anchor", as in one which has fallen away and therefore not useful. Originally a symbol of bad luck, the fouled anchor has been taken up by many sailors as a tattoo they wear with pride. This is similar to the tattoo community using unlucky symbols such as a black cat or the number 13 as signs of their countercultural aspects.
  • Rose: a rose is the ultimate symbol of love and when attached to an anchor this is the sign of love and loyalty coming together. Often this means that the person is loyal to the navy or their ship, but it can also represent loved ones and children.
  • Pin-Ups: another common theme in Sailor Jerry's tattoo designs were anchors being straddled by pin-up girls of the 1940's and 1950's. These are literally pictures you would pin up on your bunk or beside your gunner station. There is not much symbolism here other than the fact that many men away at sea might let their thoughts stray to attractive women. Why they'd do such a thing is yet to be understood.

Anchor tattoos are also commonly tattooed on your finger. Take a look at the meaning when tattooed here.

If you want to read similar articles to What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos?, we recommend you visit our Beauty & Personal Care category.

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Rafael E Gattorno
Trough adversity, pain, suffering and seeing it in every day lives. He who skins The Anchor knows how to be real. !!!
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What Is the Meaning Behind Anchor Tattoos?