How to choose the perfect inscription for a headstone

In the event of the death of a loved one, choosing the right words for a headstone can prove incredibly hard. How do you choose the most meaningful way to describe in so few words who someone was, and what they meant to you?

Once you have chosen the stone and the style that feels right, and if your family member didn’t choose their own words, you could consider writing something yourself. Think about that person’s passions- what did they love, what would they have liked to see on their headstone?

Take your time and don’t rush the decision, especially if more than one family member is involved in choosing. Consider everyone’s thoughts and inputs and make sure everyone is happy with the final choice, even if one person sees it through to completion.

There are no set rules, so feel free to be individual and personal in your choice if that is what you’d like. Other than the years of birth and death, and of course the name of the deceased, you can be quite imaginative. You don’t have to fall back on well-used sayings. You could choose a beautiful poem or a significant saying that means something to you, or something as simple and classic as you like.

Do check with your engraver what will work with the stone you have chosen, and make sure you have enough space to work with. If you have any questions or doubts, you are in very experienced hands with County Stone engravers, so do ask for advice.

Stonemason engraving with pneumatic chisel

Your local priest or any regular churchgoer will be able to help you with inspiration and ideas, and a walk around the churchyard will help you realise what you yourself do and don’t like about the headstones you see.

Consider the ethos of the church and churchyard when choosing your headstone design and wording. Sometimes a picture or etching can say so much more than words, but some more modern symbols such as ‘Xs’ for kisses might be frowned upon. Think too about whether an image or contemporary phrase will stand the test of time. Often the more simple, heartfelt and classic words will have the biggest impact on the reader.

If you are at all unsure of whether something is fitting for the setting, do discuss it with the parish priest or the local council to be sure. If the wording isn’t thought suitable, there is the possibility it will be rejected by the church, which is not a situation you want to be in when you have paid for a headstone.

Seek help from well-known texts, The Bible is full of religious quotes that can work perfectly, or choose a line from Shakespeare, Yeats or Wordsworth. There are some lovely examples here that may help you in your decision.

Remember that as hard as it may be now to decide on the right words to express your feelings, these words will be a great source of comfort to you and others for many years to come.

Craftsman templating gravures on headstone