The word “tattoo” is a loaning of the Samoan word tatau, implying to mark or strike twice (the latter describing traditional methods of using the designs). The first syllable “ta”, indicating “hand”, is duplicated two times as an onomatopoeic recommendation to the repeated nature of the action, and the final syllable “U” equates to “color”. The instrument utilized to pierce the skin in Polynesian tattooing is called a hahau, the syllable “ha” suggesting to “pierce or strike”.
Tattoos have acted as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, signs of spiritual and religious devotion, designs for bravery, sexual lures, and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection, and as the marks of castaways, convicts, and servants. The importance and impact of tattoos vary in various places and cultures, often with unintended effects.
A poll performed online in July 2003 estimated that 16% of all grownups in the United States have at least one tattoo. The highest occurrence of tattoos was found among the gay, bisexual and lesbian population.