Dove Tattoo Meanings

If you’re looking for a tattoo that exemplifies love, grace, and positivity, it’s hard to go wrong with the dove. Doves have been an extremely popular subject for tattoos even before the art of ink hit the mainstream. Most of the time, dove tattoos are tied to heavily Christian themes (a little more on that later), but doves have actually been strong symbols in cultures worldwide. For instant, doves are associated with the goddess Aphrodite, who used them to pull her chariot as she descended from the heavens. They represent the goddess of love in the Aztec religion as well (Xochiquetzal), and there are several Native American tribes that believe that one’s soul is transformed into a dove after death.

Linework dove with olive branch tattoo

Dove with Olive Branch tattoo by @karolinka_tattoo

So why get a dove tattoo, and what do dove tattoos symbolize? Luckily, doves are one of the few symbols that are pretty much the same no matter what cultural lens they’re being view through. But if you need some help deciding exactly what direction to take with your dove tattoo, here are some explanations of the most popular dove designs out there.

Full color mourning dove tattoo

Mourning Dove tattoo by @dearchels

Turtle Dove Tattoo Meaning

The turtle dove, despite its name, does not actually look like a turtle! This breed is the typical pure white version of doves that we are used to seeing (as opposed to other colored breeds like the Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, or Common Ground Dove). Turtle dove tattoos are extremely common choices for Christianity-themed pieces, and represent peace/harmony and love. Because doves are dedicated parents and mate for life, they are excellent choices for tattoos representing family. They can be drawn as a single dove, or are easily incorporated into more complex pieces.

Turtle dove and compass tattoo in black and gray

Dove and Compass tattoo by @aroncowlestattoo

Flying Dove Tattoo Meaning

Doves are actually heavily associated with femininity, at least outside of the Christianity, because of their history with multiple goddesses in other religions. Flying doves are the most common form of dove tattoos, and can be strong statements about female empowerment in addition to symbols for love, peace, and purity.

Black and gray flying doves tattoo

Flying Doves tattoo by @lesyadanko

Dove Wings Tattoo Meaning

A Dove-Wings tattoo is very similar to one of angel wings, and is often used as a memorial design to honor loved ones who have passed away. The dove has ties to death and passing on in many cultures; oftentimes it is believed that a person’s soul takes the form of a dove after death, or that doves act as guides on the way to the afterlife.

Because doves also symbolize enduring love, a dove-wings memorial tattoo could also represent continued love and affection for the person who has passed on, even though they are no longer present.

Blackwork memorial dove tattoo

Memorial Dove Tattoo by @avenda64

Cherub and Dove Tattoo Meaning

If you need a dove tattoo meaning love, then this definitely it. Doves and cherubs (the cute baby kind, not the flame-wielding angel warrior kind) are both staple symbols of Valentine’s Day and all other love-related themes. Doves have a history of being associated with love because they mate for life, and are unusual in that both the male and the female care for their eggs and raise their young together. A cherub and dove tattoo design symbolizes everlasting love and romantic commitment.

Dove and Heart Tattoo Meaning

Like the dove and the cherub, the dove and heart tattoo is a powerful statement about the presence of love in your life… though this tattoo doesn’t necessarily have to be about romantic love.

2 Dove Tattoo Meaning

Doves have become a powerful symbol for motherhood. Not only are doves dedicated partners and parents, but they are actually capable of producing their own milk to feed their young, which is extremely rare in most bird species. Doves are fabled to have fed Zeus in Greek mythology (a very maternal, nurturing gesture), and are associated with Aphrodite, Ishtar, Xochiquetzal, the Virgin Mary, and several other famous mythological or historical figures.

Getting a tattoo of two doves or three doves can be representative of motherhood, with each of the doves representing one of your children.

Two doves tattoo in black and white

Dove Pair tattoo by @abbieunderwoodx

Dove Feather Tattoo Meaning

In the mythology of the Native American Blackfoot tribe, doves were often associated with protection and safe return from battle; because of this, many warriors often wore dove feathers or carried them on their person when they went off to war. A dove feather tattoo can be symbolic of protection for this reason.

black and gray dove feather tattoo

Dove feather tattoo by @cymbyldesign

Dandelion to Dove Tattoo Meaning

A dandelion to dove tattoo (usually a dandelion puff blowing away and becoming doves in the distance) is a great symbol for purity of spirit, as both subjects represent purity and innocence. Dandelions and doves can also both be representative of new beginnings.

blackwork dandelion to doves tattoo

Dandelion to Doves tattoo by @katjoart

Dove and Grenade Tattoo Meaning

Dove and Grenade tattoos are an ironic take on the typical image of the dove bearing the olive branch, which is a symbol for peace. This tattoo design can be taken as a cynical joke, or as an acknowledgment of the duality of human interaction: in general, peace cannot exist without times of war.

The image of a dove holding a grenade is also a symbol used heavily by the band The Hollywood Undead.​

Hollywood Undead dove tattoo

Dove and Grenade Tattoo by by @saradelara_tattoo

Dove with Key Tattoo Meaning

Both keys and doves are symbolic of freedom. In Christianity, there is also a great significance placed on the keys that open the gates of Heaven (wielded by Saint Peter), so a dove with key tattoo can easily be of a spiritual nature.

Dove and Key half sleeve tattoo

Dove and Key tattoo by @studioonederby

Dove and Cage Tattoo Meaning

Doves are often symbols of victory as well as love. A dove flying out of a cage can represent breaking away from a negative area of your life… a bad relationship, a crappy job, a crisis of faith, etc. The list goes on. A dove and cage tattoo is boldly symbolic of freedom and a refusal to be trapped by your circumstances.

Blackwork dove and cage tattoo

Dove and cage tattoo by @_nikhee_tattoos_

Dove and Skull Tattoo Meaning

If you’re looking for a dove tattoo meaning death or passing on, then a dove and skull tattoo is a good way to go. As mentioned before, doves can be representative of souls who have passed on, but can also be symbols of life as well. A dove and skull tattoo captures this balance between life and death, and in a religious sense can also symbolize the play between salvation (the dove) and damnation (the skull). A dove and skull tattoo can also be great for an edgier memorial design.

Black and gray dove and skull tattoo

Dove and Skull tattoo by by @dodepras

Dove and Raven Tattoo Meaning

Like the Dove and Skull, Dove and Raven or Crow tattoos have a sort of yin-yang significance regarding the balance between life and death, dark and light.

Blackwork raven and dove tattoo

Dove and Raven tattoo by @jershtattoos_

Christian Dove Tattoos

Clearly, the dove is an important icon in many of the cultures around the world, but in contemporary society it is now most commonly associated with the Christian religion. The dove is one of the most important and enduring symbols of Christianity, and was an important marker of the faith even before the Cross gained popularity. The dove represents the Holy Spirit of God (as seen in Matthew 3:16, when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus during his baptism “like a dove”). For Christians, a dove is also a symbol of God’s mercy and peace; this is taken from when Noah sent a dove out three times after the flood to see if the waters receded (Genesis 8:8-12). The image of the dove returning with an olive branch has now become an almost universal symbol for peace, not just in the Christian community but worldwide.

Linework dove tattoo with Hebrew script

Dove tattoo with Hebrew script by @templinink

Though a single dove tattoo is sufficient on its own to be a mark of the Christian faith, many people choose to incorporate them into larger designs… sometimes taking up their entire back, chest, or composing a full sleeve. Doves are common Holy Spirit tattoos, and come in a few different variations, which we’ve listed below for you.

Dove and Praying Hands Tattoo Meaning

This particular design usually indicates a person who has very strong faith, and in particular trusts in the power of prayer to affect positive change in their life. This tattoo can be symbolic of God’s love and mercy, as Christians are frequently invited in the Bible to “cast their cares on the Lord” (Psalms 55:22). The presence of praying hands also indicates humility before the presence of God.

Dove and Cross Tattoo Meaning

A dove and a cross tattoo is more strictly related to Jesus, and the sacrifice he made while dying for the sins of humanity. The dove represents the divinity of Jesus, while the cross stands as a reminder of his crucifixion and his intense love for humanity.

Dove and Cross Christianity tattoo

Dove, Cross, and Heart tattoo by @katdutattoocamposrj

Dove and Anchor Tattoo Meaning

Both doves and anchors have a history of being associated with the Christian faith (though the anchor is rather antiquated by now). Choosing a dove with anchor tattoo could symbolize that you stand firmly on your faith, that it steadies you no matter how rough the storm gets.

Placement for Dove Tattoos

Location isn’t always an important consideration for tattoos apart from a compositional standpoint (as well as choosing an area that won’t deteriorate or distort with time). But in the case of dove tattoos, where you choose to get inked can actually lend another layer of meaning to your design.

Placing a dove tattoo on your chest can mean that you hold love (or if you’re religious, your faith) close to your heart.

Black and Gray dove and raven chestpiece

Dove and Raven tattoo by @alyx_hgtc

A dove placed behind the ear can represent guidance. Doves were considered celestial messengers in many religions, and have been thought to appear to lend wisdom or advice in times of need. If you’re a member of the Christian community, a dove behind the ear can also indicate that you heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Dove tattoos on the hands or the wrists can have a meaning similar to that old idiom of “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” This placement makes a bold, very visual statement that you are dedicated to peace, love, and/or your faith.

black and gray dove tattoo on hand

Black and Gray dove tattoo by @troybrett2113

No matter our personal creed or beliefs, the image of the dove strikes a spiritual chord in many people all around the world. These small, shy birds have worked their way into becoming powerful symbols for some of humanity’s best values; here’s a quick summary just in case you missed one or two.

- purity

- love

- family

- freedom

- humility

- peace

- faith/ spirituality

- life (or death, depending on the context)

- femininity/ motherhood

- protection

- new beginnings

- memorial tattoos

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