Beautiful Mermaid Tattoo Guide By Tattoo Designers

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The seafarers, dreamers, princesses, brave women and men who got inspired by the story and animated movie of Mermaid, the idea of a mermaid tattoo has been engraved for a long time.

The tattoo mermaid can also be inspired by the folks tales and mythologies around the world.

The Mermaid is known by many different names: sea maiden, water witch, water nymph, siren, selkie, naiad, and Oceanid.

These mythical creatures have been captivating the minds and imagination of people for centuries, especially in coastal places.

Seafarers have started the tales of these magical beings a long time ago, and Disney has only cemented its fame.

In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be playful and spirited. Whilst in others they are heralded as ethereal and angelic.

Want to learn more about mermaid tattoos? Let’s dive together into this magical world!

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Every Tattoo Has A Story – Mermaid Tattoo Meaning

What does a mermaid tattoo mean to the person who got it?

If you draw your inspiration from the mythological stories, you should know that the stories of mermaids have existed for thousands of years in the cultures across the world – from Ireland to South Africa.

The origins of the compound noun can be found in the old English word for sea (“mere”) and girl or young woman (“maid”).

That said, in some cultures, the mermaid signifies life and fertility within the ocean.

In others, she embodies the destructive nature of the water, luring sailors to their deaths — serving as an omen for storms, unruly seas and disaster.

So, what are mermaids?

The general description that is common in almost all mythologies and stories, mermaids have the scales and tail of a fish and the torso and head of a woman.

However, in the early Greek mythology the mermaids were confused with sirens, half-women, half-bird creatures.

Through this misconception the word siren is used in many languages that signifies the mermaid (like “sirène” in French).

What is the different between the siren and a mermaid?

While mermaids are morally ambiguous creatures, sirens were said to be always malicious and dangerous. This is common with mysterious sea creatures, like with octopus being a malignant animal in some cultures and in other cultures a healer.

With their insidiously captivating singing, they would attract sailors and lead them to the hazardous rocky coast of their island. They are the queens of the liminal spaces, appearing mostly at dawn or dusk

So, in the contrast to the today’s more bubbly version of the mermaid, the ancient image and legend has a gritty, complex and nuanced symbolism.

The rich voice of the mermaid calls out to us with symbolism and meaning of enticing beauty, raw sensuality, and humans who succumb to their haunting songs.

In this, we see how the mermaid becomes an emblem of balancing our heart and head.

The message is:

We need to think clearly even in matters of love and lust.

Mermaids In Mythologies Around The World

As said, mermaids appear in folk tales and mythologies around the world.

What is the history of this popular tattoo for women?

Here is a brief summary:

Syria – the goddess Atargatis

The earliest mention of mermaids is found around 1000 BC in Syria.

The legend is told through the story of the goddess Atargatis.

The goddess dove into a lake to take the form of the fish. However, the gods didn’t want her to give up her great beauty.

So, they allowed only her bottom half to become a fish, and the upper half, torso, head and the arms were kept in her human form.

Archaeologists have found Atargatis’ figure on ancient temples, statues and coins.

Africa – Mami Wata

All around the sub-Saharan Africa we see the story of the “Mother of the Waters” also called Mami Wata in local languages.

It’s a mythical water spirit that can be found in multiple African cultures, so there is no unique depiction of it.

In West, South and Central Africa, a range of tales exist about mythical water spirits called Mami Wata (meaning “Water as Mother” or “Mother of the Waters”).

Mami Wata’s gender is fluid, meaning she can sometimes appear as a man or woman.

The spirit is worshipped for both their benevolence in offering beauty, healing and wisdom, and as a way of warding off natural disasters.

Ancient Greece and Rome – Sirens and Mermaids

In this part of the world we find the inspiration for the today’s mermaid.

The European myths give us the appearance of the half-fish half-woman creature.

Beside the sirens and mermaids, there is also the tale of king Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonike, being transformed into one after her passing.

It was said that she haunted ships and sailors passing in her bay, asking them one question:”Is King Alexander alive?”.

There was only one correct answer and that was for them to declare that “He lives and reigns and conquers the world”.

Should they answer wrongly, she would get angry and sink the ship with a terrible storm.

Eastern Europe – Rusalki

The Rusalki are water nymphs of Slavic mythology, but translated as “mermaid”.

As they appeared as tale, they were seen as benevolent spirits of fertility and agriculture.

Later in the 1800s Rusalki they become evil spirits, believed to be the ghosts of women who died violent deaths by drowning.

In their anger and sorrow, the Rusalki now lured men and children to their watery graves.

Ireland – Merrows

The Irish have given the green in the today’s common depiction of the mermaids.

In their tales we see two different depictions.

The beautiful green-haired merrows, who represented the female version.

Their counterpart, the male merrow is considered grotesque, cruel and more fish than man.

The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Andersen has published one of his most famous fairy tale called “The Little Mermaid” in 1837.

It was a part of a collection of children’s fairy tales, and has since then inspired many works of art in the form of paintings, theater plays, animated and live action movies.

The most popular is, of course, the Disney animated movie that came out in 1989.

This movie has formed the playful, bubbly, optimistic and friendly image of mermaids, and of course has inspired so many little mermaid tattoos.

However, there is a significant different between the Andersen’s and Disney’s version.

Much like the myths, Andersen’s version is darker, as the princess looses her tongue completely to get legs.

Her being capable to walk also comes with the price of it being painful, comparing it to walking on knives.

The final difference is the tragic ending – the princess doesn’t manage to undo her curse on time, and the prince marries someone else.

So, she sacrifices herself and goes on to “live with the spirits of the air”.

However, Hans Christian Andersons’ original depiction was much darker. Moreover, the mermaids described by other cultures and tribes are darker still.

Disney’s Little mermaid is a lot milder in its approach to the symbolism and the message of the story, giving it a happy end.

It still manages to inspire countless of girls and boys, leading up to a lot of wonderful Ariel tattoos, Ariel and her friends tattoos, all the way to Ursula tattoos!

Best Mermaid Tattoo Placements

If you are looking for a smal mermaid tattoo, going for a mermaid ankle tattoo is a cool nod at the fact that her lower half is a fish tail. This especially goes for people choosing to tattoo mermaid scales.

In case you want to go for an elongated mermaid that is swimming, we suggest the mermaid forearm tattoo as a great elegant placement.

For those looking to do a bigger project, a mermaid sleeve tattoo with some oceanic, sea, nature or mystic background is a great option.

Mermaid Tattoo Ideas

To help you with your research for your next tattoo design, we went on a hunt through Instagram to find the best mermaid tattoo ideas.

Take a look below to check them out all:

Are you looking for a custom mermaid tattoo design? We got you.

Our expert tattoo artists will provide a quick initial draft to get you going.
Happy inking ❤

Milena Petrovic

Milena Petrovic

Co-founder of Tattoo Stylist

About the author

Milena has decided to start an organization that will create a safe environment for everybody to get their first, second or third tattoo and to encourage young people to transform their ideas into tattoos safely, with talent and vision.

You can find her writing about tattoos on Quora or updating our Pinterest profile with awesome tattoo ideas!

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