Key Tattoo Meaning, Design & Ideas

The image of a key almost certainly indicates a secret. When pictured without a lock, the mystery is increased, leaving the question of “What does the key unlock?” A key can be a very personal image, symbolizing an intimate moment or situation that isn’t necessarily meant to be shared with others.

If the key is illustrated with a lock, the image can symbolize a reliance on the self and trust in one’s own abilities or the reliance on another, often one who wears a lock tattoo. The key is a part of a couple’s or friend’s tattoo and relies on the lock image to complete the shared design.

The key is the icon of a truth or an answer and the presence or absence of a lock or keyhole can indicate the relevance of that truth. A key is a standard image that can be manipulated into a variety of designs in order to create a personal and unique tattoo.

In all honesty, the key tattoo can mean whatever you want it to mean. It all depends on the story or the history of the key to you. In this post, we will talk a bit about the history of the key and how it was used in the world. We will also discuss the meaning of the key tattoo along with the different ways it can be tattooed. Meanings can change depending on what images are paired with the key tattoo. By the end of this post, we hope you have a better understanding of what it means to have a key tattoo.

History of the Key

Keys and locks go back a long time and the earliest known key and lock was found in the Nineveh ruins which is the capital of Assyria. From these locks, the Egyptians were next to make improvements and started using the wooden pin lock. This kind of lock had a door fixture, key and bolt. By inserting the key, the pins were raised out of the drilled holes that were within the bolt, which allowed the lock to move. When you pull the key out, the pins would fall back in the hole making it lock back into place.

The warded lock is the most familiar key and lock in the West and it wasn’t until between the years 870 and 900 that the all-metal locks were created. In doing so, you needed a metal key and the rest is history. The English were credited with this creation, but it was also said that Theodore of Samos invented the key back in the 6th century.

Wealthy Romans often kept their most valuable possessions in boxes that were secured with a lock and you needed a key to get into it. The owner of the box would usually wear the key around his finger. By doing so, the wearer was showing that he was rich enough to have things to put in a box. It also ensured they wouldn’t lose the key and it was easy to get to.

Key Symbolism

The key has many meanings and the tattoo does as well. We will talk about that below but in general, the key is a symbolic object. It represents success and knowledge. Having a key gives the owner access to rooms that might be locked to others.

Keys have also been symbols of wealth and power. Those with the keys have access to the things that others want. It allows admittance into places that most can’t go. There is a trait of exclusivity that comes along with the key.

Key Tattoo Meaning

The type of key rendered will reveal more about the context of the image’s meaning. An antique iron key with intricate designs or carving can reference a long-standing secret or truth, perhaps something that has been passed down with tradition. This type of key could indicate a family trait or tragedy, a situation or memory that has been inherited or developed over time.

Keys can be designed in a variety of ways, both very delicately and large and grandiose. A small, thin key with only a couple of teeth, can symbolize a diary key to symbolize someone who frequently writes and enjoys documenting their life. A large, antique key can symbolize admiration for a certain past decade or style from an older period of time or serve as a tribute to a deceased loved one or an ancestor. A mandala or mehndi style of line work can be introduced to indicate Indian heritage, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

A skeleton key, with only one or two teeth, is made as a type of master key that can open virtually any type of lock that it was created for. The image of a skeleton or master key will convey an ultimate truth or knowledge, either acquired or representing the journey of acquiring it.

The skeleton key, often designed with an intricate end like a Celtic knot, can also indicate a secret and serve as a metaphor for having “skeletons in the closet”. Skulls, in some designs a sugar skull, can be introduced into the key grip to enhance the idea of the skeleton key. Associated with death, this design is more ominous and suits a darker personality.

Contrarily, the image of a key could be an opening to share, a symbol that others are welcome to know an individual’s story. The end of the key can be shaped like a heart and represent kindness and openness. For a more feminine design, the key can include a floral shape or be wrapped in vines or flowers. Ribbons are also added, sometimes tied into a bow at the top of the key, and can be colored to create a more visually pleasing tattoo.

Aside from harboring a secret, a key may portray a unique characteristic, a literal ‘key’ aspect of a person. Each key is designed with unique cuts, fitting only certain locks. In this way, the key symbolizes the distinctive features of the person who wears it. The key can be designed with a crown incorporated into the grip at the end and become a symbol of reality.

Celestial images like moons or stars can be designed into the grip instead and emphasize the individual’s spirituality. The key could also be transformed into a crucifix or star of David to indicate a religious affiliation or be designed with angelic wings to add heavenly imagery.

The crossed key tattoo has a great deal of religious symbolism to it. In the bible, Peter is symbolically given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus. In doing so, Peter is considered to be the first Catholic pope.

He had two keys and was considered the gatekeeper to heaven. He had one silver key which was symbolic of Peter being able to lock out the unworthy souls trying to come into heaven. He also had a gold key that was used to open the gates of heaven and rid the soul of any sins they had before going in. So, knowing this, it makes sense that every new pope is given two keys, one gold and one silver, crossed.

Key Tattoo Placement

The placement of the key on the body also indicates the meaning of the tattoo. A key placed on the lower half of the body can serve an intimate purpose and be a very personal design that is only shared selectively. A key that is placed on the chest near the heart can symbolize a loved one with whom the individual was or is very close.

Words, short phrases, or names can be introduced into the body of a key. Words that serve as a description of the individual’s personality or something or someone significant to them fit well into the design, indicating that the word or person is “key”.

A script-like font is often used and made to connect to the grip and teeth of the key to ensure the letters are well incorporated into the design. Characteristics like “honest” or “beautiful” are often chosen to remind the individual what is most important to them. The word can also be connected to the key in another way, such as by a chain rather than a part of the key itself.

There are probably many ways to get the key tattoo that we missed or haven’t thought of. This is where you come in. We hope that by reading this you got some new ideas for your next tattoo and maybe it will be the key tattoo.

The next step is finding an artist that will do the job and you feel comfortable with. Take your time in the research process and have consultations with prospective artists so you can make sure the two of you have a connection. In addition, make sure this is the tattoo you want. You don’t want to get a tattoo and then immediately regret it as they are a lot easier to put on than to take off.

If you have done your research and are still having trouble finding an artist to complete the work, let us know. We have years of experience in connecting customers with tattoo artists and we would love to help you.

1 thought on “Key Tattoo Meaning, Design & Ideas”

  1. I always see keys as representing knowledge, of any kind.. of yourself, a secret, or a psychic gift or other thing. Lots of raven tattoos have books with locks, and they are often depicted having the key in their mouth, representing either hidden knowledge/ book closed, or book open, supposedly showing honesty. That’s just my take on meaning of keys.


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