The Semicolon Tattoo and Its Meaningful History

Selena Gomez talking on a cell phone Tattoos & Piercings

While a tattoo can be as important or frivolous as you want it to be, getting a meaningful piece of ink is a great way to honor something or someone that means a lot to you. Plus, a design with meaning adds another layer of personalization to your tattoo, making it a genuinely unique design no matter how popular the symbol. And considering a tattoo will be with you forever (or until you remove it), getting a meaningful one means that you’ll enjoy be reminded of what it represents every time you look at it, rather than irritated.

One popular tattoo design with a lot of meaning behind it is the semicolon, which you often see inked on the wrist (Selena Gomez has a semicolon tattoo on her left wrist). The punctuation mark isn’t just a trend, though; its creation is deeply rooted in mental health awareness.

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What Does a Semicolon Tattoo Mean?

In the context of grammar, a semicolon is used to combine two complete sentences that are related. While a period signifies that two sentences are saying different things, a semicolon is used when two sentences are so closely related that a period would be too much of a separation. In other words, a semicolon means that the thought is not quite over even though the sentence is—there’s still more to come.

That sentiment is the idea behind Project Semicolon, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, self-harm, suicide, and addiction. “A semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended but chose not to,” reads the organization’s slogan often seen on their Instagram page. “The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

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Project Semicolon was started by Amy Bleuel in 2013 as a way to inspire those going through depression, thoughts of suicide, or self-harm to share their story and to help show them that they are not alone. Beginning as a social media movement, the project encouraged people to draw a semicolon on their wrist in solidarity, take a photo, and upload it to share with others.

And while Bleuel created the project for everyone, it was her own experiences that led to its creation. After her father died by suicide in 2003, Bleuel faced her own struggles with mental illness. In 2013, she founded the nonprofit to honor her father’s legacy and to share her own story.

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“I wanted to tell my story to inspire others to tell their story,” Bleuel told USA Today. “I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped, a conversation about mental illness and suicide so we can address it and lower those rates.”

Sadly, Bleuel died by suicide in 2017. But her legacy lives on through Project Semicolon project, which has evolved from images of marker drawings on arms to those of full-on tattoos. Instead of being a brief snapshot of solidarity, the semicolon tattoo is a permanent reminder that there is more to come in life no matter what you’re going through. And unlike a permanent marker, a semicolon tattoo will go through it with you—no matter what “it” is.

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Why Should You Get a Semicolon Tattoo?

While you don’t have to get a semicolon tattoo because of its meaning, having one most likely means you’ll be associated with it. That’s why those who get the tattoo usually do so to honor someone—whether that’s a friend, a relative, or yourself—or to raise awareness of mental illness, suicide, addiction, or self-harm. A semicolon tattoo is more than just a visual representation; they’re often a conversation-starter, meaning you can bring awareness to the cause while rocking your cool tat.

While Project Semicolon originally placed the punctuation on the wrist, a semicolon tattoo can be placid virtually anywhere, as the symbol itself has come to represent mental illness struggles and the project. The semicolon’s flexibility as a design has made the symbol a popular tattoo choice, and it’s led to tons of beautifully customized pieces of ink. If you’re considering getting a semicolon tattoo, here are a few ideas for how to personalize the design and make it even more meaningful.

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