Teardrop Tattoo Meaning: Unraveling the Mystery

Teardrop tattoos have long been surrounded by mystery, speculation, and controversy. This enigmatic tattoo design, usually placed under the eye, has a history that is often misunderstood.

What do you know about teardrop tattoo meanings?

Here we will discover the origins, variations, and meanings of the teardrop tattoo, its influence on popular culture, and the stories of those who choose it. You will also learn the details needed to decide if a teardrop tattoo’s meaning holds a place in your next piece.

Closeup of a male model with tattoos suggesting a prison teardrop tattoo concept. Teardrop tattoo meanings should be considered before getting one.

Origin and History of Teardrop Tattoos

Gang Affiliations

Since the 1970s, the teardrop tattoo has been associated with gang culture. It is believed that the tattoo was initially used to signify that the wearer had killed someone or committed a violent crime. In some gangs, members would earn a teardrop tattoo for each person they killed to display their status and reputation.

Prison Culture

The teardrop tattoo also has roots in prison culture. It symbolized solidarity among incarcerated individuals who experienced the death of a fellow inmate or family member. In some cases, it was also used to represent the years spent behind bars.

Variations in Meaning

Number of Teardrops

The number of teardrops tattooed can signify different things. While one teardrop might represent a single death or act of violence, multiple teardrops can indicate numerous deaths or a higher status within a criminal organization.

Side of the Face

The side of the face on which the teardrop tattoo is placed can also hold significance. Some believe that a teardrop on the left side signifies that the wearer has killed someone, while a teardrop on the right represents the loss of a loved one or fellow gang member.

Filled vs. Unfilled

The color and shading of the teardrop tattoo can also have different meanings. A filled teardrop may symbolize a completed act of vengeance. If the teardrop is unfilled, it could signify an ongoing quest for revenge or an intention to commit violent acts.

Teardrop Tattoos in Popular Culture

Popularity With Celebrities

Celebrities like Lil Wayne, The Game, and Amy Winehouse have all sported teardrop tattoos. Their teardrop tattoo meanings vary, with some claiming personal reasons and others stating it is a tribute to lost friends or loved ones.

Movies and TV Shows

Movies and TV shows have also played a role in perpetuating the teardrop tattoo’s association with crime and violence. In many crime dramas and thrillers, characters with teardrop tattoos are often depicted as dangerous, ruthless criminals, further cementing the stereotype.

Controversy Surrounding Teardrop Tattoos

Despite the personal significance that some people attach to their teardrop tattoos, the design remains controversial due to its historical connections to crime, violence, and gang culture.

As a result, wearers of teardrop tattoos may face judgment, discrimination, or even legal consequences in some jurisdictions. You should seriously consider teardrop tattoo meanings before choosing one in your design.

Moving Beyond the Stereotypes

Personal Loss and Grief

While the teardrop tattoo design has a notorious past, it is essential to recognize that not all tattoos like these are linked to crime or gang activity. Many people choose to get a teardrop as a tribute to a loved one who has passed away or to symbolize personal grief and loss.

Reclamation and Personal Meaning

For some individuals, the teardrop tattoo represents a way to reclaim and infuse the symbol with personal meaning. This can be a powerful and cathartic way for people to express their emotions or heal from trauma.

Your Teardrop Tattoo Design

Your teardrop tattoo design may include other elements depending on what it means to you. Consider the additions of colors or dates and other text to further personalize the tattoo. The teardrop may just be one portion of your final design.

If you want a teardrop tattoo to honor a loss in your life, work with your tattoo artist to collaborate on a unique design. They can offer ideas and style options to ensure your art is an appropriate tribute.

As with other tattoos, a teardrop can be as simple or complex, creative, and stylized as you are. Whether you opt for a single teardrop, multiples, or a multifaceted design, ensure it holds meaning for you.


What is the original meaning of a teardrop tattoo?

The original teardrop tattoo meaning is often associated with gang culture and prison life. They signify that the wearer has killed someone or committed a violent crime.

Can a teardrop tattoo have a meaning other than crime or violence?

Many people get a teardrop tattoo to represent personal grief or loss. These tattoos are also worn as a tribute to a loved one who has passed away. As with other tattoo elements, the meaning is different from person to person.

Do all teardrop tattoos have the same meaning?

No, the meaning of a teardrop tattoo can vary depending on factors. The number of teardrops, their location on your body, and whether they are filled or unfilled impact the tattoo’s meaning.

Why do some people choose to get teardrop tattoos despite the controversy?

Some individuals choose to get a teardrop tattoo as a form of personal expression, to reclaim the symbol for their purposes, or to honor someone important in their lives. To use a teardrop tattoo this way is an act of reclamation.

Can you face legal consequences for having a teardrop tattoo?

In some jurisdictions, teardrop tattoos may be viewed as evidence of criminal affiliation, which could lead to legal consequences. However, laws and enforcement vary depending on the location and circumstances.

If this concerns you, do thorough research and ask a local tattoo artist about any possible implications in your area.

Wrapping Up Teardrop Tattoo Meaning

The teardrop tattoo is a complex and multifaceted symbol that has evolved. While its origins in gang and prison culture have contributed to its controversy, it is essential to recognize that the teardrop tattoo meaning can vary significantly from person to person.

As society shifts and changes, so will the perceptions and interpretations of this enigmatic tattoo design.

If celebrity tattoo choices intrigue you, check out Travis Scott’s Tattoos and Their Meanings.

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