Headstone Engraving

What is an Epitaph?

Unless you have planned a funeral or purchased a headstone in the past, it is possible you have never even heard the word epitaph. So, what is an epitaph? The true definition is a phrase or statement written in memory of a person who has died, especially as an inscription on a tombstone. The word epitaph originates via Latin from the Greek word epitaphion which means funeral oration. When broken down epi means ‘upon’ and taphos meaning ‘tomb’.

The history of epitaphs

Contrary to what some may believe, epitaphs have been around for thousands of years; growing in popularity during the 19th century. There was a time in history, where families would bury their deceased loved ones on their own property. It wasn’t until after public cemeteries became more widespread, that the use of epitaphs to memorialize the dead would become a common tradition. The addition of an epitaph to a tombstone in a public cemetery was a way of sharing a little about the deceased with visitors; something that wasn’t as important when buried on family land.

What is the purpose of an epitaph?

There is no written rule that your loved one’s headstone must have an epitaph. However, using an epitaph helps make your loved one’s headstone unique, and special. The addition of the epitaph to a headstone helps to honor and forever memorialize the deceased.

An epitaph is merely words engraved in stone to pay tribute to the life of our loved ones. So, when it comes time to choose or write an epitaph, you want to really take into consideration the person the epitaph is being written for. Think about their life and the things that were important to them. Epitaphs can be an excerpt from a poem or a quote that was meaningful or describes them. If you are talented with words, writing one yourself is always an option. There is no set rules or guidelines when it comes to choosing an epitaph. They can be as little as three words or as long as a sentence or two, depending on the amount of space available on the headstone. If the final arrangements were pre-planned by the deceased, they might choose to use the epitaph as their final message to the world.

Epitaphs are generally more serious, however if the person you are memorializing had a funny side there is nothing wrong with a funny epitaph. After all Mel Blanc the voice behind the beloved Porky Pig has inscribed on his head stone “That’s All Folks”.

Grey Granite upright headstone, with the Star of David engraved in the top center. Many stones sit on top of the headstone.
Robert A. Estremo [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Choosing an epitaph can sometimes be the most difficult decision you will have to make, during the headstone process. After all it is permanently etched into the stone. However, enlisting the help of family, friends, or even your monument company can help to ease the burden. Here at Columbia Gardens Memorials our dedicated and friendly staff has many years of experience working with families to create the perfect memorials for their loved ones. Call us today at 703-527-7774, to discuss your monument and headstone needs.

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