Swallow tattoo meanings
Despite the fact that they are considered somewhat „old school,“ swallow tattoos are definitely coming back into style and are becoming an increasingly popular type of tattoo design for men and girls today. Bird tattoos featuring swallows actually date back to a time when sailors used swallows as a form of crude navigation, since they didn’t have access to the modern navigation we know today. To sailors, seeing swallows in the skies was the first sign that they were close to land, which is why swallow tattoo meanings have, in many ways, come to represent some sort of safe return home. Swallows are known to travel long distances out to sea during migration and then rest on boats close to shore. Seeing these swallows gave sailors a sense of hope that they would make it home safely after all.
The origin of the swallow tattoo
The first known swallow tattoo is said to date back to sailors aboard a ship that was named The Swallow. According to lore, seven crew members staged a mutiny on the ship, and each had a swallow tattoo inked on their chests so they could recognize each other. Once authorities got smart and started looking for the guys with the swallow tattoos, their friends also tattooed swallows on themselves to throw them off the trail. In time, the swallow tattoo somehow became a symbol of sailing expertise, and a swallow tattoo was traditionally inked on a sailor’s chest for every 5,000 nautical miles (5,750 miles or 9,250 kilometers) sailed.
Once he successfully sailed 5,000 miles, the sailor would get a swallow tattoo on one side of his chest. Once he sailed 10,000 total nautical miles, he would get a swallow tat on the other side of his chest. So, the more swallow tattoos a sailor had, the more experienced a sailor he was. Because sea travel was considered a very dangerous endeavor for sailors in those days, a sailor with one or two swallow tattoos was considered very experienced and was therefore valuable and trustworthy. In other words, swallow tattoos for sailors were a symbol of status.
The meaning of a swallow tattoo
In addition to inking a swallow on their bodies to represent how many nautical miles they had sailed, some sailors would also get a swallow tattoo after completing certain goals. These achievements included sailing all seven seas, crossing the equator from either direction, and sailing around the Horns, which includes the bottom of Africa and the bottom of South America.
Even though it seems like sailors only got swallow tattoos so they could show off how many miles they had sailed, the opportunity to boast isn’t the only meaning of a swallow tattoo. According to legend, if a sailor perished at sea, the swallows would alight upon his soul and lift him from the ocean and up into heaven. Because of this legend and others involving swallows, the meaning of a swallow bird tattoo was believed to represent honor, dignity, respect and trust.
Other swallow tattoo meanings and styles
Besides the nautical reference that many swallow tattoos are associated with, there are a number of other swallow tattoo meanings out there, some that date back to earlier times and some that offer more modern symbolism. Check out the following alternative meanings of a swallow tattoo.
Swallow tattoo meaning returning home
Because swallows return home every year to San Juan Capistrano in California, swallow tattoo meanings often symbolize returning home, or a sense of pride in both your people and where you come from.
Swallow tattoo meaning true love & loyalty
In addition, because the swallow is a bird that chooses a mate for life and will only nest with that mate, tattoos featuring two swallows are often meant to represent true love or soul mates. Some people get swallow tattoos as a symbol of fidelity and loyalty, either to family, a very close friend, or a loved one. In fact, Egyptian love poetry declares the meaning of a swallow bird tattoo to be the dawn of a new love.
Swallow tattoo meaning freedom or prison time
Some people believe the meaning of a swallow tattoo is overcoming an obstacle or struggle, or surviving some sort of hardship in life. Along the same lines, many people interpret the meaning of a swallow tattoo to be that the person has been to prison and served his „bird.“ This swallow tattoo meaning originated in British prisons and correlates with the term „jail-bird,“ which is also related to freedom.
Swallow tattoo meaning fast fists
Swallow tattoos found on older, tough men are often meant to represent strength and power. Back in the day, men used to get swallows tattooed on the backs of their hands if they were known as a fast, strong and vicious fighter. This swallow tattoo meaning in England or Australia stood for „these fists fly,“ and became a sort of symbol for working class pride – fast fists.
Swallow tattoo designs
The traditional swallow tattoo mimics the type and meaning of a swallow tattoo that sailors originally had. Typically inked in black or muted colors, these swallow bird tattoos were simple, subtle, and meant a great deal. Today, swallow tattoos are often more stylized and colorful, evoking a more modern swallow tattoo meaning. Although people get swallow tattoos for a variety of reasons these days, it is likely that the tat is supposed to represent one of the swallow tattoo meanings mentioned above. Even celebrities love to get swallow tattoos inked on their bodies. To date, celebrities with swallow tattoos include Christina Applegate, Johnny Depp and Mark McGrath.
Over the centuries, swallow tattoo meanings have developed and changed; today, the meaning of a swallow tattoo can be loyalty, health, wealth, and even the rigors of long-distance travel. Interestingly enough, some swallow tattoos meanings coincide with the meaning of nautical star tattoos, another type of tattoo that was once very popular among sailors. Some of the most popular places to get a swallow tattoo for girls include the hip, neck, lower back and shoulders. For men, swallow tattoos are typically found on the hands, chest or neck. If you are planning on getting a swallow tattoo, first figure out the swallow tattoo meaning and where you plan to put the tat, and then you are good to go!