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Reasons to Get a Tattoo (and Reasons Not To)

I have lots of tattoos. Something like 30 at last count, if memory serves. As tattoos have grown in popularity and social acceptance, it’s very likely that your average 20-something has one or more tattoos. And while I’m certainly not an expert on the art of tattooing, I’ve got a good deal of experience with tattoos (mostly because I get lots of people who want to show theirs to me) and can enumerate fairly confidently what are good reasons for getting a tattoo. I can also tell you what are not good reasons :)

People’s tastes in tattoo design has always fascinated me. Everything from beautifully ornate recreations of their mother’s High School yearbook photo to a cup of coffee and a donut (seriously, I’ve seen it). Far be it from me to tell somebody I think their tattoo is dumb (to their face, at least), but I think there are some pretty hard-and-fast rules about choosing a design for your next tattoo.

First, what I consider to be good reasons for getting a tattoo.


Of all the tattoos I’ve seen, this is probably one of the most common categories of inspiration. Whether it be a small “R.I.P.” piece on your arm for a cousin that died before his time or the name of the Company in which you served while in the Military, these are the kinds of things that are begging to be the basis of a tattoo design. From my personal “collection”, I have a tattoo on my right shin for my father who died in 1999 (at age 53).

But another facet of the “memories” idea that is often overlooked would be things that you really loved at one point in life. I feel these are just as viable as tattoo design ideas as departed loved ones, personally. It always makes me smile when I hear somebody talk about how they’re not sure they want a certain tattoo because “well, it’s going to be there forever so I’d better love it forever”. While there is some credence to that, I actually disagree. If you spent your formative years playing chess with your father but haven’t executed an en passant since the Carter Administration, then a chess tattoo would be perfect (if you ask me). Because it’s a memory, something that helped define who you are (even though it may not have manifested itself in immediately apparent ways).


While these may look and smell very similar to Memories, there’s an important distinction: tributes are the kinds of things you’d get tattoos for that haven’t yet “ceased”. For example, I have tattoos for both of my children and my wife (kids tattoos pictured below), none of which are dead (a fact I’m pretty happy about). I love my family more than anything, so I really couldn’t wait to get them.

Nora Tattoo "Holden James" Tattoo

I suppose now is a good a time as any to bring up the whole “tattoos for your mate” thing. First, let me just say that I have my wife’s name tattooed in huge block letters across my lower back, and I’m all too happy to show it to anybody who asks (and even people who don’t) – much to my wife’s chagrin. So, clearly I fall on the “yes, do it” side of the argument. But – and that’s a huge ‘but’ – it’s something that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. There’s always the possibility that your relationship could end (one way or another), so you need to weigh that before taking the “I (heart) Wanda” plunge. But if you’re pretty sure the relationship is going to go the distance (which I am, for the record), then I say go for it. You’re only going to get one pass at this “life” thing, after all.


I love computers and technology. They’ve been my hobby and profession for many years now and will continue to be for many years to come. So it shouldn’t shock anybody that I have several “geeky” tattoos. Here are a few, and the geeks reading will probably be able to identify most of them:

Debian Swirl - Close-up hextat1 Tux the Linux Penguin

If you’ve been going to see some sports team play for years and years and it’s something you’re truly passionate about, then go ahead and get that team logo tattoo you’ve been secretly dreaming of. If anybody voices disagreement with your design, you could kindly retort with something about their mother and how it was a good thing they didn’t get that particular tattoo. :)

Personal passions are fairly few and far between, in my experience. If there’s something you truly love, then a tattoo is a great way to show off how you feel. And if you’re not quite so into that thing a few years down the road, then you can count it as a memory!

Bad Reasons for Getting a Tattoo

As much as it may seem like I pretty much green-lighted every tattoo idea ever in the previous paragraphs, I do think there are several tattoos that are simply bad ideas. I’ll toss these in list form so you can scan them quickly:

  • Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend – Unless you’re married (or in some other committed relationship), don’t go getting Mary Beth’s name on your shoulder. Dating relationships have a 99.9% failure rate, so you’re against some pretty hefty odds. So, wait until there are rings on fingers before you start getting the tattoos, please.
  • Your Favorite ‘Vice’ – This has got to be one of the dumbest tattoos ever conceived. I’m talking about the guys with the logo of their favorite beer or (worse yet) a big ass pot leaf or something. Getting a tattoo of these types of things will make you look like a dumbass. And if you actually get something like this, you probably are a dumbass.
  • “I just really like the design” (a.k.a., No Reason at All) – Even if your tattoo is in reference to something stupid, at least it’s in reference to something. Tattoos that have absolutely no meaning whatsoever (I’m looking at you, guy-with-tribal-band) are, to say the least, not recommended.

In closing, I’ll say this: if you really want a tattoo, get it. Ultimately, you’re the only one who’s going to have to deal with it as you wander through life. If it means something and you like it, go for it! Don’t pay any mind to your negative friends and coworkers who try to convince you that “man, bacon and eggs? seriously?”. At least you’re taking life by the horns and doing something. Tattoos are wonderful, go get yours.

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