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Headstone Symbols: Choosing symbols for a headstone

Flickr post by cliff1066 / CC BY-SA (

Dating all the way back to the 18th century, instead of carving headstones they were decorated with symbols of death such as a skull, winged cherubs, or a heavenly crown. It was not uncommon for people to also use items from an event in the life of the deceased, or even something that represented how they died. These symbols were the best way to memorialize a loved one.

Fast forward thousands of years, monument builders now have the tools and ability to engrave any symbol that can be drawn into stone. In our modern era of technology, the options for engraving symbols into headstones has become limitless. However, finding the right symbols to represent the life of a lost loved one can still be challenging. So let’s take a moment to discuss some of the more common symbols people use.

Symbols of Angels

If you have ever walked through a cemetery, you may have passed a few headstones with an angel engraved into it. Perhaps you did not know that each one of these angels represents something different. The angel itself is an agent of God; whether the angel is needed to guard the grave or be a guide to heaven.

  • Cherubs – Are angelic little things that signify innocence.
  • Praying – It is said to be asking God for mercy on behalf of the deceased.
  • Trumpeting – This one represents the day of judgement or rebirth.
  • Weeping – Symbolizes grief or mourning for an untimely death.
  • Gathered in the clouds – This is a representation of Heaven.

Engraved Crosses

The cross is another symbolic item with many different variations, depending upon your religion. A mutual cross that most have seen within Christianity represents resurrection. Below we have listed a few of the many variations of the cross available.

cross engraved into gray granite headstone
Cross engraved into gray granite headstone.
  • Cross with crown – Signifies Sovereignty of God.
  • Cross with flames – With a flame going up the left side, this is the symbol of the Methodist religion.
  • Celtic or Irish cross – Depending on what your religion is, it is often used to mark a Monks or Priests grave.
  • Orthodox cross – This one has 3 bars, the extra bar on top is for the sign nailed to the cross which read “This is the King of the Jews”, the lower bar is for the foot rest.
  • Roman or Latin cross – It came from the separation between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

praying hands engraved within a circle and roses on each side reads, "THY WILL BE DONE" engraved on granite headstone
Praying Hands symbol engraved into the base of a headstone. Inscription reads,”THY WILL BE DONE”.
The Star of David engraved in headstone
The Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, engraved on a headstone

Religious Symbols

There are many symbols other than crosses that represent different religions, or religion in general. As with most of the symbols we’ve gone over. There are several choices available when it comes to selecting a religious symbol; therefore, it is important to select the one that would hold the most significance to the deceased.

  • Church bells – Symbolizing a call to worship.
  • Chalice – This signifies a Catholic right of Holy Communion.
  • Crescent – Represents Muslim belief or can indicate rebirth.
  • Crucifix – Means suffering and death in a Christian context.
  • Menorah – is an emblem of Judaism.
  • A Pair of hands – A symbol for prayer.
  • The Star of David – A significant symbol of Judaism.
  • Alpha & Omega – These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, representing the Beginning and end of life.
Engraved Masonic Lodge symbol featuring a compass/divider with set square and the letter G in the middle on a headstone
Engraved Masonic Lodge symbol bearing the “G” in the center, reminding us that our every act is done in the sight of the Great Architect of the Universe.
bronze plaque for the Daughters of American Revolution symbol of spinning wheel over a distaff. affixed to a headstone
A bronze symbol of a spinning wheel over a distaff. Inscription reads, Daughters of the American Revolution”

Organizational Symbols

If the person you are memorializing was a member of any organization or club, most have a symbol to represent them. It is a great idea to include this on the headstone especially if it was something they were passionate about. Here are a few fairly well know symbols for organizations that one could have engraved.

  • Masonic Lodge – symbol consists of compass/dividers together with a set-square. It is not uncommon to see the letter G in the middle, representing Geometry which is the mathematical science masonry is found upon, also to remind us that our every act is done in the sight of the Great Architect of the Universe.
  • Daughters of the American Revolution – Is a spinning wheel over distaff filled with Flax.
  • Shriners – The emblem is a Scimitar and 5-pointed star.

Engraved Military Symbols

Prior service and military veterans are often honored in death with a symbol of some form. These symbols are a means to show our appreciation for their hard word, dedication, and the sacrifices they have made for our country. These symbols are also a great way of letting visitors, whom may not have otherwise know, that the deceased served. The most common choice individuals select is the insignia for the branch they served. Here are some other options to choose from or combine.

  • Purple Heart Medal – If received by your loved one, this can be engraved.
  • Bronze Star Medal – Another option if it was awarded to them.
  • American Flag – A great choice for any Veteran.

Personalizing a loved one’s headstone with symbols is a great way to share a part of their life story for generations to come. We have shared a few symbols that are commonly seen on headstones; however, there are still hundreds of different symbol options for memorializing a loved one. When considering a symbol for a headstone consider how they lived their life. Think about the things that made them smile, what they felt passionately about, or what causes they dedicated their life too. The symbols you select should reflect their life story. If pre-planning, selecting the symbols you want in advance, can help take some of the burden off family and provide one with the opportunity to reflect on their own life.

Image Source: Flickr post by cliff1066 / CC BY-SA


COVID-19 Update

We are continuing to practice social distancing and following CDC guidelines, to protect our community and staff. However, we are open and available to serve you. Todd and our engravers are back on premises working and we are accepting appointments during our normal operating hours. To schedule an appointment with us please call our office at (703) 527-7774 or email us at

Thank you for your understanding during this time. – The Columbia Gardens Memorials Staff