The Do’s and Don’ts When Adding A Name to A Headstone


Losing a loved one is a hard time full of many emotions. The last thing you want to do in a time like this is to make hard decisions. Unfortunately, things like dealing with someone’s death takes just that. Among many of the choices you need to make, what is the right procedure when adding a person’s name to a headstone?

To add a name to an existing headstone you should hire a professional engraver who will perform the engraving on-site. Choosing the design of the inscription will depend on a number of factors from the existing design, burial plot’s regulations and level of skill of the engraver and space available.

There are so many things to consider when adding a name to a headstone from who can do it, to who should do it to what you should actually add. So, I’ve gone through all the questions you might possibly ask below.

Below are some general ideas to remember:

Do

  • Consult a funeral director or cemetery staff
  • hire a professional engraver
  • take your time to decide on the inscription
  • consult loved-ones to choose the right words
  • consider a memorial inscription

Don’t

  • consider including jokes
  • be generic
  • try to cut corners by hiring an amateur
  • proceed without proper permission

Who gets to make the choice?

For the most part, this should be very obvious. The first person to jump out as the right person is likely the right one. Namely, the spouse or the deceased’s closest living relative, ideally being the one they were closest with of course.

If in the rare case this isn’t resolved, quickly, or there is someone inappropriate throwing their hat into the ring, a vote would do just fine. Through the miracle of group chats, nowadays this can be done very easily by adding all the members and requesting a count. Even great grandmothers nowadays have Facebook.

Who has the right to put a new name on a headstone?

When you purchase a plot for your grave, you will be in possession of what is called the plot deed. Only the person who is in possession of the deed, and only them, will have the right to change any headstone or engraving thereof.

Anyone who wanted to change something would need to be the direct owner of the plot or have written signed permission from them.

If the person who owns the plot deed happens to be the deceased (which is the case much of the time) the deed will be passed onto the next of kin, provided the will doesn’t say otherwise. Having a conversation with the funeral director would be the easiest way to clear this up as it is a common occurrence within most graveyards.

Of course, if you have the space for it and the inclination, you can also bury your loved-ones on private property in which case you have a lot more control over what you can do. I’ve written a complete article on this topic, you can read all about it here.

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How much does it cost to put a name on a headstone?

This is something that can vary greatly, so it is best to get several quotes from a few different headstones carving companies in your area. Your starting price for a smaller sized headstone will run you around $500 USD for around 20 letters, extra letters costing $7.00 per character.

A larger stone will cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 USD depending if it is hand-carved or machined. Of course, this is only a concern if you are replacing an existing headstone for a new one with multiple names on it.

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Again this will be based on the specifications of the size of the stone, the detail involved, the number of characters and even the city that you live. Best to decide what you want and have a conversation with the engravers themselves.

Again, if you are completely replacing the headstone, this process can take up to 8 weeks to have it erected in the cemetery, so take your time.

If you are taking this route, then you might be interested in what the best material for headstones is in terms of longevity and price. Check out my full article on this topic here.

I recently looked into getting a loan and I’ve actually had a good experience with Supermoney.com. For me, it was a car loan but I spoke to them about a dedicated funeral expenses loan, which is one of the services they offer and was quite impressed. To see if you could qualify, check out my link here.

How is the name or inscription added to an existing grave?

In most cases, when you add a name to an existing headstone the easiest method is to commission a trained engraver to carry out the task on site. Often this is done by using modern engraving techniques, including sandblasting.

Ideally, you want to work with a skilled professional to ensure a quality finish to the headstone. For more of an idea about how this task is performed, watch the video below:

How many names can you add to one headstone?

This will really depend on the rules and regulations of the place of burial. However, usually, there is no real limit to the number of names if memorials to family members are permitted. Nevertheless, some cemetery may insist that only those buried on the land be commemorated, so the number of names will be limited by the total possible burial in the plot.

Can you add another name to a headstone if a person has yet to pass away?

In simple terms, yes the engraving company should be more than happy to put anything you might want on the stone. The engraving company can have the spouse’s name added to the headstone in their shop, for example, if a customer wants. This can be a morbid but quite thrifty way for a couple to plan ahead if they have already decided to be buried together.

Given that this might be a little unnerving for the person who is still alive, it is also an option to have the engraving done later when the person actually dies. The company will send somebody out to carve the new name on the stone when the time comes, on-site at a higher cost, but it might save some grief.

How do you choose the right words? (Hopefully carving also)

So you’re the person that has been given the right to tell the engraver what to write on his masterpiece. Hopefully, the group around the deceased has given you a decent amount of suggestions and hopefully some great ones to make your job a whole lot easier. Some of the basic facts of life that come round and round again come into play with this choice.

– A picture says a thousand words. The first thing people will see from a distance when they look at the headstone will be the picture. If it is a great original carving from the artist it will make the headstone all the more memorable. A picture can capture something about the person that words just can’t when it’s done right. For this try to draw inspiration from the deceased’s life, like their favorite hobby, pet, vacation spot or family members. If they were an art lover, their favorite piece might help you decide on a direction.

– Less is more. Although it might be tempting to say everything amazing you know about this person on the headstone, hitting the brakes and making it short is the best route to remembering a person. Not to mention each extra letter will cost you a pretty penny. There is a lot of beauty in a short sentence that really resonates with the person and will be easy for the people to remember always.

– Slow and steady wins the race. Granted, there may be a tight schedule in choosing the headstone inscription, depending on the family, but taking your time and feeling out the absolute best phrase will pay dividends. After all, this is something that will be around for (hopefully) as long as anyone else that knew them will be.

– There’s a time and a place. Even though the person buried in the ground may have had a great sense of humor and would have loved the joke that you couldn’t resist putting on his headstone, the reality is that jokes always lose traction.

Even if everybody at the funeral really enjoyed the joke, it’s likely that after a while it won’t be funny and might even come off a little disrespectful in the long run. It’s best to fight the urge and stay away from the funny pages on this one.

– Love is all you need. In the end, love from the people that they shared their life with is all they have left. If there is not a phrase that jumps out at you after careful consideration, talking about the people that love them can’t go wrong. This is a get out of jail free card and should come easily.

– Stand out from the crowd. Keep the basics out of your inscription. Having “In loving memory of..” or anything that you would see on 90% of headstones as you walk through a graveyard on your headstone, will make your loved ones the same as the rest, FORGETTABLE.

It’s important to be patient and think this one through. When the right inscription is in front of you, you will know you are making the right choice.

Who gets a say in your inscription selection?

 This might become a touchy territory, just like the selection of the person with the final choice. Best to only involve direct relatives and their closest friends. There’s not much point in adding to the stress of the funeral by starting a debate like this.

Have the chosen few send the person in charge an email with some thoughts about what they would like to have on the headstone This way, more people will feel as though they had a say, even if they didn’t.

Can you add the name yourself?

There are no general rules which say that you can’t actually add the name yourself. Of course, you may have to check with the cemetery in question, but for the most part, if you own the plot deed you have full autonomy over the monument you erect (within reason).

With an initial burial in the plot, it’s quite common to wait for 6 months until you erect the headstone, of course when adding a name to an existing headstone you don’t have to wait that long. Nevertheless, this may give you time to perfect the skills needed to actually add the name.

I would seriously advise you to practice on a similar piece of stone until you are very confident in your skills. Although for most people this won’t be a feasible option, for the handier among you this may save you a lot of money and even kickstart a new business venture.

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