What Is the Meaning of a Teardrop Tattoo?

Among criminals, a teardrop tattoo typically means that a person has killed someone according to Crime Library. It can also mean that the wearer has served an extended prison sentence, or is grieving the loss of a family member. A teardrop tattoo is typically located under the wearer's eye.

A Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute report indicates that the teardrop under the eye tattoo is one of the most common prison tattoos in the United States. The design is rumored to have originated with the Chicano gangs of California and has been adopted by criminals nationwide.

While it most commonly represents the wearer's claim of a murder, it does carry other meanings as well. Variations on the teardrop design convey different meaning. For example, a teardrop outline, or clear teardrop, often means that the wearer has committed an attempted murder. Another common reason for the tattoo is that the wearer intends to avenge the death of a close friend or family member. According to Christine Brady of the Idaho State Historical Society, a teardrop can also mean “somebody’s mother doesn’t have a son anymore” or that an inmate has “had a sad life.”

While this design is most common among inmates, the meaning behind a tattoo is unique to an individual and doesn’t always mean that the wearer has been to prison.