Fish tattoo designs and their meanings cannot be ignored in the world of tattoos. There are fish monuments and memorials dating back thousands and thousands of years, which makes it a very ancient and historical symbol. Fish were very important in the diets of island and coastal peoples, so fish were often vital to their survival. In order to ensure a plentiful and abundant supply of food, different cultures began worshipping or praising the fish or gods they believed provided the fish. Gods and goddesses associated with oceans and waters are often purported to be in control of fish and sea creatures, as well.
Even in more modern religions, the fish is a very significant. In the Western world, fish are often associated with Christianity, while in the Eastern world they are very important in Japanese traditions and folklore.
Fish can represent faithfulness, wisdom, power, creativity, females, happiness, change, fertility, abundance, wealth, success, knowledge, inspiration, prophecy, revenge, good fortune, luck, longevity, loyalty, and courage. Negatively, the fish can also symbolize greed, danger, and lies.
The various meaning of a fish tattoo is derived both from the type of fish and the cultural history with which it is perceived. For example, Christian tradition implies that fish is representative of abundance and faithfulness or loyalty. Christ fed thousands with only a few fish in one Bible story. Historically, a specific fish symbol known as Ichthys, which is a simple design combining two curved lines.
This symbol was used to identify other Christians in a time when Christianity was being suppressed. Today, the symbol is a popular religious tattoo design and is often seen as a symbol for passionate, vocal, or revivalist believers. As a religious tattoo design, the Ichthys fish sometimes contains other biblical references, like a verse, the word “Jesus,” or a cross. The Ichthys fish, sometimes called the Jesus fish, can be tattooed in any style, color, or size. As a symbol, it translates well into the tattooing medium.
Increasing in popularity, Ichthys parody tattoos are becoming more and more common. These tattoos play on the design of the famous fish in order to create a new symbol or critique the meaning of the original. Two of the more common variations include the Darwin or evolution fish and the Jewish fish. The Darwin fish is the symbol of the ichthys with the addition of legs. Sometimes, this fish design also incorporates the name “Darwin” in place of “Jesus.” Although some Darwinists and Evolutionists critique the symbol for not accurately representing their beliefs, others embrace it, not as a representation of themselves and their own beliefs, but as a criticism of Christianity and Creationism. As a tattoo design, this can be done in as many stylistic ways as the original Jesus fish.
The Jewish fish is similar; it is the ichthys fish symbol with the world “gefilte” replacing “Jesus.” Gefilte is a ground puree of fish that is very popular among Jews, particularly Ashkenazi Jews. This fish dish has come to represent Jewish faith and ethnicity, and many Jews embrace the symbol in the same way Christians embrace their design.
In a more realistic fashion, there are tattoos for every species of fish or sea life, from sponges and anemones to sharks, whales and guppies. Some of the more popular fish for tattoo designs are goldfish, sting rays, eels, octopuses, clown fish, rainbow fish (based off of a beloved children's storybook), trout, salmon, marlin, and sword fish. These fish tattoos often hold personal meaning rather than general symbolism for those who choose them, like a love of fishing or a childhood fascination.
Perhaps the most common fish design for tattoos, though, is the Koi, or carp as are they called in English. Koi tattoo designs, are very important in Japanese culture, much like cherry blossom tattoo designs or dragon tattoo designs. There are several folk tales in both Japanese and Chinese culture that explain the history of the Koi, but the message is constant; they represent bravery, strength, courage, and perseverance. In most of the stories, the Koi fish succeeding in overcoming great hurdles and achieving the impossible.
In Japan, Koi tattoos are sometimes associated with the Japanese mafia-like organization known as the Yakuza, which is still feared today. Because of this connection, Koi fish may actually be more common in the West. Some people believe the direction a Koi fish tattoo faces is indicative of the sexuality of the person, but sources differ as to which direction holds which meaning and the belief is not widespread. However, this is something to consider when contemplating a Koi tattoo.