Tattoos have never been so popular and hardly a week passes without some celebrity showing off their latest inking. However, one wrong stroke and you end up with a tattoo translation mishap. It’s a risk every tattoo fan must face – and these mistakes and examples of bad translation, not even the stars are immune to.

The real problems come when people decide to get tattooed in a different language or script to theirs or the tattooist’s mother tongue. While they leave the tattoo parlour happy with their exotic new stamp, anyone who does speak that language will be able to spot a mistake from a mile away.

Celebrity tattoo translation mishaps

One of the most famous examples of a tattooed mistranslation in recent times is that of Hayden Panettiere, who had her favourite motto written along her back. The Heroes and Nashville star chose to have the phrase “To live without regrets” permanently etched on to her skin, but decided to have the saying written in Italian rather than English. In a twist of supreme irony, the resulting translation was spelt wrong – while it should be ‘Vivere senza rimpianti’, the last word was mistakenly spelt ‘rimipianti’. As a result, Hayden had to take her own advice for a while and put up with the mistake, although photos taken last month suggest she is in the process of getting the tattoo removed.

The actress is not alone, though. Back when David Beckham only had a handful of tattoos, he decided to have his wife Victoria’s name etched on his forearm. While this was a romantic gesture in itself, the football star wanted to be sure the ink wouldn’t look tacky, and so decided to have it written in Hindi rather than English. However, anyone who speaks Hindi could immediately tell that his wife’s name had been lost in translation along the way, and ended up as ‘Vihctoria’. Speaking to the BBC back in 2000, editor of the magazine Purvai Pademesh Gupta said that ‘Victoria’ is not an unusual name in India, where Hindi is widely spoken, because people are so familiar with Queen Victoria. He added that the English name could be found in the Hindi dictionary, which led him to surmise: “Whoever did the tattoo was probably English and didn’t know Hindi.”

Since getting this mistranslation permanently etched on himself, Beckham has added extensively to his collection of ink. The Hindi mistranslation didn’t put him off trying out other languages either, as he has Latin mottos and Roman numerals on his forearms and a Chinese motif on his torso – all spelt correctly.

Pop star Rihanna is no stranger to controversy, but the tattoo she got in 2010 drew attention for all the wrong reasons. The singer chose to have the French words ‘rebelle fleur’ inked on her neck, but some claimed that French rules of grammar mean the adjective should have followed the noun. However, Rihanna has claimed that she wanted the French for ‘rebel flower’ not ‘rebellious flower’, and so, because it was two nouns, the rules did not apply.

Britney Spears also has tattoos that have been lost in translation. Perhaps the singer was attempting to create an image of herself as an enigma when she chose to have ‘mysterious’ tattooed on her hip in Chinese symbols. However, what her tattoo actually said was “strange”, which may not be the image she was going for.

Britney’s ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake had a lucky escape in the tattoo department. In 2006 he appeared in crime drama Alpha Dog as a young man accused of participating in the kidnap and murder of a 15-year-old. To help him get into the character of the gangster, the make-up department covered him in fake tattoos, several of which were written in Chinese. A particularly large one on his arm spelt out ‘liubing’ in Chinese script, and it can only be assumed that no-one realised this means ‘ice skating’ – hardly the most gangster of pursuits. Luckily, the tattoo wasn’t permanent so Timberlake does not have to live with it, unlike the other stars on this list.

So, what lesson can we learn from this? Well, if nothing else, make sure you take a language phrasebook and dictionary to the tattooist the next time you visit.