A complete guide to headstone and monument terms & meanings

How do you decide on the perfect monument, gravestone, tomb, plaque or urn for your loved one? And then once you’ve chosen, how on earth do you communicate the style, materials, look and feel you’re going for? Great questions. And in this guide we’ll answer them all for you.
A complete guide to headstone and monument terms & meanings

If you’ve never planned a funeral or had to organise a memorial, you might be feeling a little out of your depth right now. And that’s totally okay – there’s a first time for everything, and you’re not alone in feeling extremely confused.

Turns out, monument companies use a range of terms we don’t use in our day-to-day, which means that their emails, brochures and phone calls might be littered with jargon you don’t understand.

And that’s why we’ve written this guide; to help you navigate the overwhelming waters of planning a monument. Feel free to save this link in the ‘Notes’ app on your phone so you can return to it later, because this is about to become your Monument Dictionary of sorts.

Definitions you need to know:


We figured we’d start with the most obvious definition. A monument is a structure that’s erected over a grave to commemorate a person who has passed away. It looks a bit like a statue and can be referred to as a ‘full monument’ (when it includes a headstone and a base) or a just a ‘monument’ (which refers to the headstone on its own).

Gravestone, Headstone or Tombstone

While these terms sound like they could be different things, they aren’t. A gravestone, headstone or tombstone all refer to a stone marker placed at the head of the grave, typically with words and details about the deceased inscribed on it.


The words written on the gravestone. This usually includes the deceased’s name, date of birth, date of death, and a few kind words about them. Sometimes the names of their relatives (partner, parents, siblings, children) are also included.

Urns or Vases

The terms urn and vase can be used interchangeably. An urn is a vase that has a cover (or lid) on top of it. It holds a person’s ashes after cremation.


This can be a wood, stone, or ceramic tile that is used to mark the resting place of the deceased. It is used in place of a headstone or can be used in addition to other memorials.


The site at a cemetery where a coffin is buried.

Hand Etching

An engraving on the gravestone, carried out by an artisan who specialises in the area. They use a diamond-tipped tool.

Monument Mason

A stonemason who creates and installs headstones and monuments. They also repair monuments.

Laser Etching

Like hand etching, but done by a computer-guided laser instead of by an artisan.


Two separate headstones that either mirror each other or are symmetrical and make up one solid shape. They are installed on a shared base, and are typically used by partners (ie. Husband and wife, wife and wife, husband and husband).


A monument that is installed directly into the ground. It doesn’t have a base, and it stands upright.


A columbarium is a monument that includes vases or housing to store ashes. This can sometimes look like a bookshelf, with different slots for each deceased person.


A free-standing building that houses the remains of a deceased person.


A specific area within a mausoleum where the person’s body is entombed.


This refers to the finish of the stone chosen for the memorial. Usually ‘pol’ refers to a shiny or glossy finish.


Nope, this doesn’t refer to the material ‘steel’. Instead, it’s a different type of stone finish (an alternative to ‘pol’). This finish is a smooth one, made by frosting parts of the stone with a sandblaster. It has a velvety feel to it.

Balance Rock Pitched (BRP)

This is a more rustic finish than ‘steel’ and ‘pol’. It’s commonly used on the sides of a monument and exposes the natural stone.


A long and flat stone that covers the grave (the bottom part of the monument). Inscriptions can be written on this, as well as on the headstone.

Religious restrictions and cemetery requirements

Choosing a memorial type for your loved one isn’t as cut-and-dry as simply selecting your favourite option. Cemeteries usually have different sections (and they often aren’t clearly identifiable) with rules and restrictions on who and how people can be buried within each section. Before choosing the monument type, make sure you check in with the cemetery it will be erected in so you don’t make a decision that’ll be rejected.

There are so many memorial options to choose from – do you have any recommendations for me?

We wish we did! There are so many ways to remember and honour your loved one. It’s best to do some research and find the memorial that best suits the deceased, their family, the requirements of the cemetery, and religious beliefs. And if you can’t decide on one sole option, you can always mix and match memorials to create something that feels just right.

If you are looking to plan a funeral, the team at Willed can help. Call 1300 945 533 to speak with a dedicated funeral arranger today.

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