A Guide to Dog Tags: History, Evolution & Buying Tips

Dog tags are jewelry pieces that both have a vital function and a high aesthetic value. These jewelry pieces are easily recognizable by the oval-shaped discs or rounded rectangle tags on a ball chain. The discs or tags have important information engraved on them, such as the wearer’s name.

Anyone can recognize a dog tag, but does anyone know the history of this jewelry piece?🧐 It’s said that the use of custom military dog tags dates back to the Civil War. In addition, dog tags weren’t originally used for fashion reasons.

Man Wearing Dog Tag on a Railroad Track

In this article, we will answer vital questions and cover different topics such as:

  • Why are dog tags worn?
  • Where does the name come from?
  • What do military dog tags say?
  • The evolution of the dog tag
  • Dog tag culture
  • How to get your own personalized dog tag necklaces
  • And more

Let’s dive in!🏄🏻‍♂️

The origins of dog tags

Unofficial army dog tags were created during the Civil War so soldiers could be identified if they died. But dog tags weren’t the only identification method that soldiers chose; some pinned paper tags on their clothing and others wrote important identification information on their clothing.

But plenty of soldiers wore necklaces with their name carved into the pendant. However, the earliest dog tags aren’t the oval pendants we know today.

Soldiers found whatever they could to use as an identification necklace, such as bits of metal, old coins, and even wood chunks.

Those with money purchased engraved dog tags. Since dog tags were unofficial, they purchased the dog tags from non-government sellers.

After this, making identification cards for soldiers became more common. In 1899, the first official military dog tag request came in near the end of the Spanish-American War. The dog tags finally arrived in 1906.

The first dog tags were stamped with this information:

  • Name
  • Company and regiment or corps
  • Rank

The dog tags were attached to a chain or cord and were worn under the uniform.

Civil War Disc-Shaped Identification Tag
Ephemera Society of America

The original dog tags looked different than the ones we recognize today. They were shaped as discs.

Very soon, this requirement would change. Soldiers were required to wear two dog tags: one to remain with the body and a second for record-keeping.

By 1917, all U.S. combat troops were required to wear dog tags. The Navy was the last to require them.

The Navy’s dog tags had a few differences—U.S.N. was etched using a specific process, a print of the sailor’s right index finger on the back of the tag, as well as other differences.

Since then, they have changed slightly. For example, in World War I, soldiers were able to print their religious beliefs on their dog tags.

The dog tags we recognize today were adapted during World War II. They changed in size to the rounded rectangle shape we know today. They also started making dog tags out of nickel-copper alloy.

A World War II Dog Tag Found in Field at Whitchurch, England
A World War II dog tag found in field at Whitchurch, England | Image: Daily Echo

The information etched into the dog tag was the same, except they added blood type, service number, and made religious preference an optional addition. They also used to mark who has a tetanus vaccination (they did away with this in the 1950s).

Do modern soldiers still wear dog tags? DNA identification has improved exponentially which can identify service members. However, dog tags are still worn today. Instead of being the prime way to identify soldiers, they’re now worn as a way to honor those who died.

The dog tag name

Why do we call them “dog tags?” No one knows for sure. The most credible source is it was coined by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as a critique to etching social security numbers on military-style dog tags.

Other rumored nickname origins include calling them “dog tags” because the identification plates look similar to what a dog wears and because World War II draftees were treated like “dogs.”

Do soldiers in other countries wear dog tags?

U.S. soldiers aren’t the first to wear identification tags. Spartan soldiers would write their names on sticks and would tie them to their left wrist. Dog tags were also awarded to a Roman legionary during their enrollment.

Dog tags have also been worn by Chinese soldiers since the mid-19th century. The dog tag is made of wood and is worn on the belt. The dog tag includes the soldier’s name, birthplace, age, date of enlistment, and unit.

During the Franco-Prussian War, Prussian soldiers wore dog tags while many rejected them. After many fallen soldiers were unidentified, by 1869, Prussian soldiers were required to wear them.

Franco Prussian War Dog Tag Listed on WorthPoint
A Franco-Prussian War dog tag | Image: WorthPoint

In World War I, British soldiers started wearing two dog tags made of vulcanized asbestos fiber, very similar to the two tags that American soldiers wore.

Other Empire and Commonwealth soldiers (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) also carried identification items but wore them mainly as bracelets.

The evolution of dog tags for non-military purposes

Because of the effectiveness of military dog tags, common people starting implementing dog tags as fashion items and for various other purposes. Here are a few common examples.

Medical Dog Tags

Some individuals wear medical ID tags that state their medical conditions. This is used to provide treatment guidance and even stating an allergy to common medications.

Medical ID tags also list the wearer’s information, an emergency contact, and any objection to artificial resuscitation (though some states require a doctor’s signature on a DNR order).

In addition, some soldiers wear a medical ID tag.

Dog ID Tags

It’s a common practice to give dogs an ID tag and hang them on their collar.🐶 The dog tags for pets may include information such as the dog’s name, the owner’s contact information, and even a mention of a reward.

You can find dog name tags in all colors and shapes, such as a dog bone.🦴

Cute Dog ID Tag With the Pet Name, Owner's Contact Info and More

Fashion Dog Tags

Fashion dog tags are a popular customizable fashion piece, especially for men. Dog tags give men a sense of style that also makes them look tough. But dog tags are a unisex jewelry piece and can be worn by anyone.

Those who wear dog tags may engrave information such as the person’s details, their tastes, beliefs, a favorite quote, and there are even funny dog tags available.

Handsome Man Wearing Rounded Rectangle Tag Necklace, in Black T-Shirt

Many companies offer custom dog tags, the more exquisite ones are gold dog tags and feature diamonds and other gemstones.

Do you have to engrave your dog tag? 👉🏻Some prefer to wear blank dog tags.

Dog tags are a popular trend among musicians and music artists. Some performers and bands also make dog tags with their name and logo.

How did military dog tags spread to the jewelry circle?

So, how did a simple method of military identification become a jewelry and fashion trend? Many people love being expressive and prefer to express their individuality with style. This is why custom jewelry is so popular, and dog tags provide the perfect way to express yourself.

Most people prefer personalized dog tags. They like to engrave their name, a favorite symbol, a message, and even add accents such as a birthstone on their dog tag. You can even get a dog tag customized with a picture. 

For this reason, cool dog tags also make the perfect gift. You can make a dog tag for a loved one that features their name, a sweet message, and accent the dog tag with gemstones.

There are more ways to print your information and other custom mementos on a dog tag. Jewelers can use a variety of techniques, such as engraving, stamping, and printing.

You also don’t have to settle for the classic oval shape—you can choose a variety of different dog tag shapes and sizes. There are also many ways to style your dog tag. You can wear multiple dog tag pendants and even pair your dog tag with charms.

Fashion dog tags are made in all materials. There are dog tags made in premium alloys as well as other materials, including silicone dog tags.

Celebrities and dog tags

We mentioned how dog tags are popular among music artists, but you can see many celebrities wearing dog tags.

Stars such as Will Smith, Ryan Gosling, and Kristen Stewart have been seen sporting dog tags. Male celebrities wearing dog tags especially made dog tags for men a trend.

Dog tag buying tips

Before you buy a dog tag, we recommend you follow these buying tips to ensure you get the best dog tags.

Keep material in mind

As stated previously, fashion dog tags are made of a variety of different materials. Aluminum is the most common—aluminum dog tags can come in a range of different shapes and sizes, are easy to customize, and are inexpensive.

If you truly want a long-lasting one, you’ll benefit from stainless steel dog tags. These also come in different shapes and sizes and you can engrave anything in them.

Plastic dog tags, such as acrylic, is another common dog tag material. Acrylic is a flexible and easily customizable material and you can find acrylic dog tags in different vivid colors.🌈 Since acrylic is a plastic, it’s more lightweight than metal and alloy dog tags.

You can also find dog tags in unique materials, such as brass. Brass dog tags have a rustic look. These are the best option for artistic dog tags; the jeweler can etch different images and fonts into the dog tag.


The average dog tag is large enough to fit essential information but not too large to be a nuisance. You can also find dog tags in a range of sizes. Choose the dog tag size that’s most comfortable for you and the purpose of wearing it.

Handmade or machine made?

Most dog tags are machine-stamped to ensure the engravings don’t fade, but you can find handmade dog tags.

Personalized Leather Cord Dog Tag Necklace for Men
My Name Necklace

Which is the better option? Handmade dog tags are ideal for those who want more exquisite dog tags, especially in unique materials such as polymer clay, leather, wood, and sterling silver.

Jewelers who make dog tags by hand usually have more flexibility with customization. This is important to consider if you’re making couples’ dog tags.

Where to buy dog tags?

There are many custom jewelry retailers that sell dog tags, including My Name Necklace and Soufeel.

  • My Name Necklace offers a variety of different dog tags in varying shapes and styles. This store also has different dog tag options, including dog tags for kids.
  • Soufeel is also a popular option because they offer unique dog tags, such as photo dog tags.
  • You can also find different dog tags on Etsy. Custom jewelers sell dog tags in different styles with multiple engraving and customization options.

Learn more about custom necklaces

Dog tags aren’t your only custom necklace option. Click here to learn more about custom necklaces and all of the different choices available.

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