“Love is a many splendored thing,” so they say. When you consider how many forms of love there are – eros, ludus, storge, pragma, mania, and agape – it’s no wonder love is such a popular subject for tattoos. Love for a family member, a dear friend, a romantic partner, a beloved pet, or even a favorite hobby or interest can be expressed through the most permanent display of devotion.
A word of caution on love tattoos: No matter how intense your feelings are right now, sometimes they change. Relationships end, friendships dissolve, and even interests change as we age and mature. Family members, especially kids, and our pets are usually the only ones we never stop loving, no matter what. If you are determined to get a tattoo for someone you love dearly, it’s best to get a symbol of that friendship/love rather than having their name emblazoned on your skin for all eternity. Then, if something should happen to change how you feel, you’re not stuck staring at their name every day.
So, if you’re looking for a symbol to represent your love, what options do you have?
It may seem obvious and basic, but the heart – either anatomical or stylized – is the Number One symbol of love. If you’ve ever been in love or had your heart broken, you understand why poets have described the human heart as being the center of love for centuries. You can almost point to the very place, in the center of your chest, where you feel those intense emotions. Even though science has never found proof that the heart contains any such ability to feel love or loss, it is human nature to associate the organ with the emotion.
There are many different stylistic ways in which a heart can be drawn, but it’s always the same basic shape. When you compare the heart we draw with the anatomical heart, it’s difficult to see any similarities. So, why do we draw the stylized heart the way we do?
There are several theories on how the shape of the heart came to be. Some say that in ancient times, people saw cow hearts much more often than human hearts. Since the cross-section of a cow heart is somewhat similar to the stylized heart, it’s possible that’s where the design came from.
Yet another theory is that the shape was taken from the seed pod of the Silphium plant. The idea is that since the seed was used as an herbal contraceptive, it became associated with love, romance and reproduction. The ancient Greeks, attributing the medicinal plant as a gift from the God Apollo, stamped the shape of the Selphium pod on their Cyrene coins. The plant must have evolved over the centuries or that particular species of plant is now extinct, because today’s Silphium pods don’t look anything like hearts to me.
And, of course, there’s also the version that a woman’s body parts – particularly her buttocks and cleavage – can be likenened to the shape of a heart, thus connecting sexuality with the iconic shape.
Whatever version – if any – you choose to believe, there’s no doubt that the heart shape is the most popular representation of love in all its forms. The color red is typically the most common, and that’s said to represent blood, passion, and life itself.
Cupid and the Arrow Pierced Heart
Cupid, the arrow-wielding cherub who incites people to fall in love with his magic arrows, originated in both Greek and Roman mythology. As with many mythological tales, there are inconsistencies and variations that make the true origins of the character unclear.
What we do know for sure is that, in Greek mythology, he was called Eros. It’s also widely accepted that both Cupid and Eros were the children of the Goddess of Love (in Cupid’s case, this was Venus, while Aphrodite was the mother of Eros). The major difference between the two seems to be that Eros is generally depicted as a grown man while Cupid is artistically rendered as an infant; both are typically naked.
In recent times, the child Cupid has won popularity over Eros as the symbol of love. Why? Maybe because the child-like innocence best represents the feeling we humans experience when we’re in love. Maybe because the idea of a naked infant is less disturbing than a naked man flying around shooting people with an arrow. For whatever reason, Cupid with his bow and arrow have become an international symbol of romance.
It’s no surprise, then, that the heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow would be an equally popular icon to represent love. It’s also most likely where the term “lovestruck” came from.
The Infinity Symbol
While many people immediately associate the infinity symbol with love, it was originally a mathematical symbol. Invented by John Wallis, one of the world’s most influential mathmeticians, the symbol was designed to represent “squares of indivisibles.” More simply put, have you ever tried to find the square root of something and the end result was a number at the end that repeated an infinite number of times? That’s where the symbol is put to use in mathmatics, to represent that never-ending digit.
In more recent times, the symbol has been adopted and adapted to signify almost anything that is infinite or never-ending—including love.
Even though it’s sometimes drawn like a sideways number eight, the infinity symbol does not meet in the middle. That’s a lemniscate, which is a different mathematical symbol. The infinity symbol is one circle that has been twisted at the center, so there are two layers in the center.
Lavender and Red Roses
Roses have become symbolic for many feelings and occassions; they are the most popular flower for everything from the most festive events (like weddings) to the most sorrowful (like funerals). Each color of the rose has its own special symbolism, although there’s nothing wrong with choosing a color simply because you like it.
Red roses are the ultimate symbol of love and passion. Red is the color of blood, which brings life as well as arousal. A lavender (pale purple) rose, however, symbolizes enchanted love or love at first sight.
The Jasmine Flower
In the Hindu faith, white Jasmine flowers – which are known for their alluring scent as well as their beauty – are a symbol of attachment and sensuality. A gift of Jasmine flowers from one Hindu to another is a sign of devotion.
Osram Ne Nsoromma (Sun and Moon)
The Ashanti (or Asante) are a people from West Africa who use a variety of symbols to express their spiritual and political beliefs. Adinkra is a cloth that has been stamped with various symbols that are recognized by the Ashanti.
While the heart *is* a recognized symbol of the Ashanti, it does not represent love in the way it does for many other cultures. Instead, Akoma signifies patience and tolerance. Another symbol, however, called Osram Ne Nsoromma, which means “moon and star,” is their preferred representation of love because of the intimate relationship between the North Star and the Moon. In addition to love, Osram Ne Nsoromma also symbolizes faithfulness and harmony.
American Sign Language
Although I know that every language has its own version of sign for the deaf, the ASL symbol for the words “I love you” seems to be the most widely known and used. It’s done with one hand, with your palm facing away from you and toward the person you’re speaking to, with your two center fingers folded down. This combines the ASL letters “I” “L” and “Y” all in one hand sign, making it an easy way to tell someone you love them – even from across a crowded room!
The shape of the hand, when drawn in this fashion, is also known as an artistic symbol of love. Of course, you can always go the extra mile, as pictured above, and “spell” out the entire word, L-O-V-E.
When it comes to getting tattoos in Chinese, you need to understand that they are not “symbols.” This is simply how they write, so you’re not getting anything symbolic on you; you’re getting the actual word. If you don’t personally read or understand the Chinese language, it may be unwise to get a tattoo of it.
I, personally, do not read, speak, or understand Chinese, so the above characters are a result of my research; I could be as mistaken about this as Lisa Rinna when she decided on “just one more surgery.” So, don’t take my word for it; go see my friend Jun Shan over at CSymbol.com; since he speaks Chinese, reads and writes Chinese, and IS Chinese, I think it’s safe to trust him on his translations.