Compasses were traditionally tattooed on sailors and boating enthusiasts. They symbolise not only been at sea but also finding direction in your life or a particular journey you embarked on. Nowadays they are popular for aesthetic value as well as for people such as backpackers who have done a lot of traveling and want a compass design. Some will even have the compass face the direction of their home from where they have moved to so as to have a reminder of where they came from.
The word tattoo, or tattow in the 18th century, is a loanword from the Samoan word tatau, meaning "to strike". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian (Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting, scarring or staining.