What to Write on a Headstone: Tips & Examples for a Lasting Tribute

Honor your loved one with the perfect inscription that provides a lasting tribute to who they were.

Updated December 22, 2023
Inscription on a headstone

A headstone is more than just a marker that sits above a grave. It's also an enduring statement about your loved one, and knowing what to write on a headstone can help you craft the perfect tribute.

Most headstone inscriptions include the deceased person's name, date of birth, and date of death, but you can also include their important roles and relationships, simple sayings, or verses that meant something to them (or to you). There are many ways to enhance a headstone and make it a richer and more meaningful tribute for your loved one.

Simple Headstone Inscription Example

Most headstones include some very basic information about the person they honor. Think of this as your starting point and add to it if you want to:

  • Name - This can be the first and last name, but it may also include a middle name or maiden name. A few headstones also have nicknames on them.
  • Birth date - The person's year of birth is usually on the headstone, but it can also include the month and day.
  • Death date - Similar to the birth date, this could be just the year or the full date.

An example of a simple headstone inscription would be "Jane Smith, 1938 - 2023."

Need to Know

Although the terms "headstone," "gravestone," and "tombstone" are often used interchangeably, they actually have slightly different historical meanings. A headstone is the vertical stone that marks the head of the grave, and a tombstone was originally a stone that sat on top of a coffin (like a stone lid). A gravestone is a flat stone that lies on the grave.

What to Write on a Headstone for Added Meaning

There's nothing wrong with sticking to the basics, and for some people, that's absolutely their preference. If you want to add a little more info or meaning, though, there are some ways to do that with a short inscription

Quick Tip

Before you decide what to put on a headstone, take a little time to really think about that person's life and what they meant to everyone. That should help you decide what kind of tribute would be most fitting.

Here are a few examples of what you could have engraved, depending on what you want to highlight about the person you're honoring.

Life Relationships or Roles as Headstone Messages

Gravestone inscription for mother wife

We all fill certain roles in our lives, and that helps define us. If you take a stroll through a cemetery, you'll see a lot of headstone inscriptions that mention these relationships. This is a fairly common but also very meaningful thing to include.

If you're wondering what to write on a gravestone to sum up these roles and relationships, just think about a few words that describe what the person did or who they were. You might also include personal sentiments you'd like to express about your loved one.

  • Here lies a beloved mother, wife, daughter, etc.
  • Here lies a beloved husband, father, son, etc.
  • Here lies a soldier who served his/her country well.
  • The sun shined brighter because she was here.
  • Beloved by family, cherished by friends
  • The world is a richer place because he once lived.
Quick Tip

If the person had a title, such as "MD," you may also want to include this on the headstone to memorialize that specific professional role.

Personal Quotes as Gravestone Inscriptions

Sometimes a less formal statement makes a wonderful saying to put on a headstone, especially if it's a direct quote of your loved one. Think about some of the things they said about life or death to find a unique headstone inscription. Here are several examples of tombstone writing that might help inspire you.

  • "I lived a good life. Now I'll have a good rest."
  • "I hate to leave you all behind, but we'll meet again one day."
  • "Live to the fullest, for life is all too short."
  • "If I could do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing."
  • "The greatest gift in life is love."

Religious Sayings for Headstones

Engraved Headstone

If the person you're honoring had a strong religious faith, you may want to keep that in mind when you're deciding what to put on the headstone.  This is a deeply personal thing, but these are a few sayings that reflect a person's faith in the afterlife.

  • Have faith we'll meet again.
  • God called me home to Heaven.
  • Parted by death, we'll be reunited in Heaven.
  • Don't weep. I'm simply resting in God's arms.
  • I soar with the angels and sing with the Heavenly choir.

Bible Scripture Headstone Verses

Sometimes, a Bible quote can be the perfect choice for someone with a strong sense of belief.  These are a few scriptures that speak about death and eternal life and are perfect to use as grave marker sayings.

  • "Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." - John 3:15
  • "Thy remembrance shall endure into all generations." - Psalm 102
  • "They can no longer die; for they are like the angels." - Luke 20:36
  • "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." - Psalm 23
  • " I will fear no evil for thou art with me." - Psalm 23
  • "Where, O death, is your victory: where, O death, is your sting?" - 1 Corinthians 15:55
  • "I know my redeemer lives..." - Job 19:25-27
  • "...I am going there to prepare a place for you." - John 14:2
  • "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live." - John 11:25
Quick Tip

If you want to save your loved ones from the responsibility of choosing your epitaph, consider what you might like your headstone to say, and make sure your wishes are known ahead of time. This can make things a lot easier for the people you love.

Short Poems or Poetry Excerpts as Quotes for Headstones

Some headstones are large enough to write a short poem on them. You can write your own poem or use one already written by someone else and give the poet credit. We like these options.

  • An excerpt from John Donne's famous poem, Death Be Not Proud, could make a fitting message for a headstone: "One short sleep past, we wake eternally/And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die."
  • Emily Bronte's poem, Death, paints a striking image of a life cut down in its prime. There's one line in particular that would make a touching epitaph: "Sorrow passed, and plucked the golden blossom..."
  • The stone on the grave of author Mark Twain's daughter is engraved with the final stanza of a poem titled Annette, originally written by Robert Richardson. Twain altered the last line slightly to read: "Good night, dear heart, good night, good night."

Writing Your Own Beautiful Words for a Gravestone

Deciding what to write on a headstone is not always an easy thing to do, but you're already on the right path to finding the perfect words. Think about your loved one and what they meant to you and choose an inscription that memorializes that as a lasting tribute.

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What to Write on a Headstone: Tips & Examples for a Lasting Tribute