Complete Guide to 16 Popular Headstone Shapes

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Headstones come in all shapes and sizes. A stroll through any local cemetery is an introduction to the many shapes you’ll see. With so many types of grave markers, how do you start your search?

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There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the most popular headstone shapes. From classic to non-traditional, you’ll want to choose something that has meaning to you. However, buying a headstone or grave marker isn’t always easy. You need to be familiar with your full range of options, including the different shapes available. 

In this guide, we’ll share the most popular headstone shapes and their benefits. While it’s up to you to determine what shapes appeal the most to your loved one’s legacy or your own legacy, it’s helpful to know all of your options. 

Traditional Upright Headstone Shapes

When most people think of gravestones, they really think of headstones. These are the standard, upright stone monuments typically placed at the head of the grave.

These come in the most shapes and sizes. If you’re wondering how much headstones costs, they’re typically also amongst the most expensive. 

1. Square top

A square top headstone is exactly what it sounds like. If the top of the stone is flat, creating a square shape, this is a square headstone.

These are common in modern cemetery headstones, and they can vary in price depending on the material. 

2. Checked top

The checked top headstone is similar to the square top in that it also has many stark angles. However, there is also an upper portion raised within the square.

This creates an angular, dramatic shape, and it’s a unique take on the traditional headstone design. 

3. Raised shoulder

The raised shoulder headstone is another modern design. This is similar to the square top, only there is a raised shoulder on the left or right side.

This is a small raised square on the side of the upper edge. This shoulder is often engraved with a unique design, or it might simply be to add style within itself. 

4. Oval or arc

The most common type of cemetery headstone you’ll encounter is the traditional oval or arc shape. This is the rounded oval top that most people are familiar with.

While this isn’t as common today as it used to be, it has a vintage, timeless appearance, especially when used with stone material. 

5. Oval with shoulders

Another vintage option is the traditional oval with shoulders. This has the same oval top, but with square “shoulders” on the sides.

These are seen most often in older cemeteries, but they’re still a popular choice for today’s burials. 

6. Half-round

The half-round shape is a more dramatic version of the oval. The entire upper half is rounded, creating a continuous curve design.

This is an effortless, whimsical look that sometimes feels fitting for modern burials. 

7. Gothic

Finally, the last traditional upright headstone is the gothic shape. This is an oval top that’s pointed in the middle, resembling a gothic church or other types of gothic architecture.

It’s dramatic and beautiful, common in both vintage and modern cemeteries. 

ยป MORE: It's stressful to handle a loved one's legal and financial affairs when they're gone. Follow this checklist for guidance.

 

Popular Flat Grave Marker Shapes

There are no limits to today’s headstone designs, and many choose a flat grave marker instead of something that stands upright. Not only do these blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, but they leave ample space for engravings and customization. 

8. Square or rectangle

It comes as no surprise that the most traditional flat grave marker shape is a square or a rectangle.

These are typically the most affordable, and they’re usually made of metal or natural stone. They’re easily engraved with personal information, and there might be additional design elements to help them stand out. 

9. Bevel frame

Like a real work of art, the bevel frame design is either a rectangle or a rounded top with a beveled frame around it.

This helps the engravings and design within the marker stand out, and it adds more texture. 

10. Circle or oval

Aside from square or rectangle shapes, the circle and oval are also popular. It’s seen as less dramatic or severe as an angular flat marker. It’s commonly used in children or infant burials as a symbol for youth and innocence, but it’s not limited to any specific age. 

11. Floral

There are also flower shapes common nowadays. Flowers have long been used as a symbol for remembrance and mourning.

By shaping the memorial marker like a flower or wreath, this symbol comes to life in a form of ongoing remembrance. 

12. Rectangle with vase

Lastly, many of the rectangular memorial markers also come with a vase. This is true of metal flat markers, and the vase itself is used to store memorial flowers.

The vase is built into the design itself, secured for centuries to come. While these flat memorials are inexpensive compared to headstones, the vase does typically add to the price.

Unique Headstone or Grave Marker Shapes

Finally, there are a number of unique headstone or grave marker shapes that are quickly gaining in popularity. These might not have been typical in some of the cemeteries of the past, but they’re quickly becoming the norm today. 

13. Scroll

Like an ancient proclamation, the scroll design is typically seen in flat markers though it can also be done with standing headstones. The scroll, as the name implies, resembles a scroll of parchment.

Typically made of stone, it looks rather realistic and displays the family names. 

14. Book

Another common shape, especially amongst flat markers, is a book. Like an open page, it reveals the names and dates etched on its pages.

Not just for those who were bookworms, this is a great fit for anyone who knows how to make the most of their page in the neverending book of life. 

15. Cross

Religious crosses have been used in gravestone design for hundreds of years, and they’re still common today.

Nowadays, the cross is used as the shape itself for upright headstones or flat markers. This is the same for other religious symbols as long as it’s structurally sound. 

16. Bench

Last but not least, some gravestones are shaped into a functional bench. This usually includes a flat marker or plaque to honor someone’s memory.

The bench itself is intended to be used by friends, family, and other cemetery visitors as a way to reflect and find peace. 

How to Choose the Right Marker for Your Needs

How do you decide which gravestone or marker is right for you? While this depends on a number of different factors, most people make their decision on the following:

  • Cemetery rules: Some cemeteries have their own rules on the types of plaques, markers, and gravestones allowed. There are typically size limits and material restrictions. 
  • Budget: Of course, it often comes down to budget. The size and shape of the headstone impact the price. For something less expensive, a flat marker is a better choice. If the budget isn’t a concern, a full-sized headstone might be the right fit. 
  • Engravings: Another thing to consider is any engravings. Most people have the person’s name, date of birth, date of death, and a prayer or epitaph engraved on their headstone. This means the shape needs to accommodate this space. 
  • Meaning: Last but not least, the shape should mean something to the deceased of their loved ones. 

There’s no right or wrong choice when choosing a headstone. These markers are a form of physical legacy, and they should be something you’re proud of. 

What Headstone Shape Is Right for You?

Most people haven’t given a lot of thought to headstone shapes. Unless you’ve personally shopped for a headstone yourself, you might not even have realized just how many shapes are available.

So, what type of headstone shape appeals to you? How does it fit your idea of legacy, remembrance, and symbolism? These headstones leave much room for interpretation, and sometimes you’ll need to find your own meaning. Most importantly, remember these markers of remembrance are very much for the living. As long as it’s something you like, you’re on the right track. 

If you're looking for more information on how to choose the right headstone, read our guides on headstone design ideas and unique headstone ideas.

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