Tattoo Thursday: Tattoos and the stories behind them

By Allison Heimlich

The art of tattooing was first practiced in ancient Asia. Now tattoos are prevalent in many modern societies, as the expression of art has spread rapidly throughout the world. The style of tattoo varies depending on culture or country. What further influences someone’s decision to get a specific ink comes from personal reasons such as a person’s beliefs, influences and sometimes simply their level of spontaneity. At our university many students have tattoos. Lets take a look at the location, reasoning and stories behind them.

Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

In light of her recent 19th birthday on Oct. 20, sophomore Alex Guendert recently got a tattoo of “agape,” the Greek word meaning love. “My tattoo is on my rib cage because I know the stigma of having tattoos and I want to make sure if I have a professional job it will be in a place I don’t have to work hard every day to cover it up. Once I get older if I don’t want it to be seen, it won’t be seen. And it’s more of a personal thing too,” Guendert said.
Getting a tattoo did not just entail walking down to a parlor and purchasing one. She had been thinking about it for a while.
“I’ve always wanted a tattoo because my cousins are covered in them and I’ve always liked them,” Guendert said. “I knew I was for sure getting one on my 19th birthday when my parents said they would still pay my tuition if I waited a year and thought about it. That was on my 18th birthday.”
Studies by the Pew Research Center show that not only are people more prone to get a tattoo once they’ve already gotten one, but also that 32 percent of people who have a tattoo claim to be addicted to ink. Guendert revealed her thoughts about getting more ink and whether it’s a possibility for her future.
“I may get one more, but not for at least a couple of years. I am not planning on continuing to get many. I like to keep it simple.”
Guendert’s faith was a major factor in her decision to get the word “agape” inked permanently. The word “agape,” traditionally associated with Christianity, refers to faith and spiritual love. “I believe that if I am going to have a tattoo on my body permanently it needed to be something important to me. Faith is really important to me and I thought it would be a good idea to get something religious to show my belief in God. So I researched the word agape. It’s so simple but it means so much to me.”
Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

Sophomore Pono Keni’s intricate tattoo represents the strong ties he has to his family.
“My cousin, my best friend and I grew up together and we all wanted to get a tattoo to symbolize our bond because everyone was going their separate ways after high school. My cousin and I each got it on our leg and my best friend got it on his arm.”
Keni’s tattoo is very elaborate with many different meanings attached to it. He went into more detail about how his background heavily influenced the design of the tattoo. “The Lauhala mat represents the unity between [us] three guys, and the Kalla leaf represents the kids in our family. Aumakuas—the shark teeth—symbolize a god-like figure looking over you, because my family symbol is the shark. The triangles up higher—imua—mean always going forward and never going backward. Finally, the waves at the back are because I like the ocean,” Keni said.
The likelihood of getting another tattoo seems very good for Keni, who confessed his infatuation with ink. “It’s addicting; once you get one and see how good it turned out you want more. I don’t know, I like tattoos now,” Keni said.
The process of getting a tattoo was thoroughly planned. He spent years thinking about the meaning and design. “I always wanted one, but started designing this thing second semester of my junior year and didn’t finish until the end of my senior year because I had to look into all the Hawaiian art books and history books to figure out what everything meant,” Keni said. “It took me so long because I’m a horrible artist.”
Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

Photo Courtesy of Allison Heimlich

Junior Jenna VonDrasek, who has a tattoo of an evergreen tree, said her initial thoughts of getting a tattoo began long before she made it permanent. “I’ve always been really attracted to the tattoos as a form of artistic expression. I’d say my first thoughts were inspired by family friends who designed their own tattoos to represent different meanings. My older cousin, Jessica, designed a tattoo of forget-me-not flowers that wrapped around her rib cage, representing each member of her family. It was made up of beautiful purple and blue colors. I knew I wanted one too, I just wasn’t 100 percent sure of what,” VonDrasek said.
Though she was initially attracted to tattoos for their beauty and artistic merit, her reasons for getting her tattoo were not so simple. “A couple of years ago, my mom received a grant from the government to move to Prague. About that same time, my sister was starting school in Michigan and I was returning to San Diego for school,” VonDrasek said. She considers her sister and mother to be her best friends. Her tattoo is a manifestation of the bond shared between the three women. She described the moment she decided to get a tattoo while sitting under an evergreen tree outside of her summer cottage in Wisconsin.
“It represents the bond between us and that no matter where life takes us, our roots remain at that place,” VonDrasek said.
VonDrasek’s decision about the location of her tattoo was carefully thought out and holds a special meaning to her. “I chose to put in on the inside of my ankle to represent that I am rooted by my family. It is on the inside to show that the meaning behind my tattoo is internal. It is there for me as a reminder to stay true to myself and that it is unaffected by the outside world or obstacles,” VonDrasek said.
She is currently in the process of designing another tattoo and admits she is inclined to get more “It’s a way of documenting the beautiful things that happen to you,” VonDrasek said.


  1. Fascinating! The fact that every tattoo is a story in itself is charming. For me, I’ve always felt proud of my 4 year old tattoo which I got designed from has been a part of my person. As a remembrance for my mother, I fondly flaunt it whenever or wherever I can.

  2. It’s always awesome sharing stories that go along with tattoos.

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