This tattoo honours my late father, my family, and my unique identity within it. My family’s surname is Dutch: Groenenboom, which translates to ‘green tree’.
I am thankful to be starting the new year by doing something to deeply meaningful. It is a positive way of acknowledging those who have passed, including my dad and my beloved cousin six months ago, those who remain and are still flourishing, and my connection to them all.
I spent months choosing the tree design, as there are myriad options available and many are gorgeous. I chose this one because it symbolises strength, beauty and grace. The maple leaf represents me, obviously— unique among the other leaves, but strongly connected and coming from the same source.
I am so proud that this symbol is now part of me.
The word tattoo is interesting because the one word has two completely different sets of meanings that have come from entirely distinct sources.
That makes it a homophone, a homograph, and a homonym all at the same time: as it is pronounced and spelt identically for each of its various meanings.
Octothorpe is a less-well known name for that beloved symbol we call the hash symbol. It has been used for a plethora of functions for centuries, but it has really taken on new life in the 21st century with the proliferation of hashtags on social media.
Octo comes from the Latin for eight, just as it does in words like octopus or octagon, and in October— which used to be the eighth month, but that’s another story. When you look at the hash symbol, it has eight points. That part is logical enough.
The origin of the rest of the word is much more recent and much less clear..
The popular story is that it was named after Jim Thorpe, an athlete whose Olympic medals were taken from him because he had been a professional basketballer. Workers at Bell Laboratories, who happened to be fans of his, named the symbol in his honor at some point on the 1960s or 1970s.
That’s a pretty cool story, supported by some dictionaries, but it’s not the only one. The name was almost certainly coined at Bell Laboratories, but the real story behind it is unclear.
One theory is that it comes from a team member burping while talking about the hash symbol with his co-workers. A third theory is that it comes from an Old English word for “village.” Yet another is that the Bell Laboratories workers deliberately chose something that non-English speakers would find hard to pronounce. Of all the possible options, I really hope that wasn’t it.