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Ten tips for choosing a headstone inscription

Here are my top ten tips for choosing a headstone inscription, one of the most challenging part of commissioning a headstone.

Choosing a headstone inscription can be a source of great anxiety and stress. It can also be a source of comfort and joy when the right words are chosen. In my previous article on Dying Wishes, I talked about the two main approaches to choosing an inscription. Below I set out my top ten tips for choosing a headstone inscription:

1. Take your time with choosing the wording. Nobody should be rushed or be made to feel guilty about the time this takes.

2. Decide on one family member who is happy to take the reins.

3. Avoid ‘In loving memory of’; it is overused and very much the standard beginning of a headstone inscription. It has begun to lose its impact. Instead look for other ways to express this meaning, such as ‘remembered with love’, or even better a small pictorial carving. A carving can often express something that words can’t.

4. Avoid too many cluttering words. For example, dates are usually best when only the years are used. In time this is what is important. However when creating a memorial for a child the days and the months can be very significant especially if they have only lived for a short period of time.

5. Avoid lists of attributes, try to sum up the points in short sentences.

6. Consider choosing an epitaph that has an impact on those who read it. For example a line from a poem. ‘What will survive of us is love’ has an impact on everyone who reads it. Many people like to put for instance, ‘Beloved daughter, mother, sister and grandmother’ which in 20 years might seem slightly irrelevant. Far better to put something which will stand the test of time.

7. Wit is the highest form of humour but usually only in conversation. It really needs to be hugely clever to remain funny on a headstone as the years go by.

8. Be open to the design ideas you are offered.

9. Go for a design and letterform that is timeless; avoid trends that don’t last and choose letterforms you really like.

10. Find a letter cutter who has had many years’ experience in making headstones; they will be able to offer sound advice if needed. Whenever possible, choose a hand-carved headstone- this will give you much more freedom in the use of space and you will not be restricted to a template. Any ideas can be discussed with me. It is worth remembering that there are no rules; no right or wrong and the person who commissions the headstone must ultimately have what they would like. The above advice is only there so one can be aware of the possibilities.

For inspiration, have a look at my gallery of headstones. I have also written a blog post with a long list of tasteful epitaphs.

Fergus W
Written by

Fergus Wessel

Designer and letter-carver

Fergus created Stoneletters Studio in 2003, after training at the Kindersley Workshop. He is a member of the prestigious Master Carver's Association.