Headstone etiquette can be tricky, especially if you’ve never given thought to what goes on a headstone before. What names do you include on a headstone? Does this change if someone has a maiden name from before they were married? With a lot of headstone sayings to choose from, it’s normal to be confused.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You List a Maiden Name on a Headstone?
- Wording Ideas for Listing Maiden Names on Headstones
- What Else Should Be Included on a Headstone?
Luckily, it’s more straightforward than you think. Humans have designed headstones for hundreds of years. That means there is a long tradition of headstone etiquette to pull from honor your loved one. In reality, there are no hard and fast rules about creating a headstone. As long as you’re putting your loved one’s legacy first, your heart is in the right place.
Can You List a Maiden Name on a Headstone?
First, let’s answer the basic question: Can you list a maiden name on a headstone? The easy answer is yes, you can put any name you want on a headstone. However, this isn’t required. It’s traditional to list the full name of the deceased, and this includes their name at the time of death only.
That being said, many people consider the maiden name to be a part of one’s identity. It’s usually added for any number of reasons, such as:
- The woman’s family was very well-known
- The woman wished to honor her father or her family name
- The woman was divorced at her time of death
- It was a family name
Including the maiden name on a headstone also serves a practical purpose. It makes it easier to discover one’s history or genealogy. In the future, this headstone would be more beneficial if it included the maiden name. Ultimately, it’s up to the family how they wish to honor their loved one. Most graveyards have their own rules about how names are presented, but this isn’t always the case.
When in doubt, consider what would have made the most sense to the deceased. This is their legacy, after all. If including the maiden name on the headstone sounds right, then by all means include it. This is especially true if you have enough space to include more than an epitaph. Putting thought into a headstone is a beautiful act of remembrance, so don’t take this lightly.
Wording Ideas for Listing Maiden Names on Headstones
With that in mind, how should you list a maiden name on a headstone? There are a lot of wording ideas to keep in mind. The traditional order of names on a headstone is usually “first name, middle name, last name, maiden name.” This could also be adapted for nicknames. It’s very flexible, as you’ll see in these examples below.
1. “First Last née Maiden”
To begin, née is the most common prefix used when including one’s maiden name. The term itself is French and comes from the feminine past participle of naitre which means “to be born.” It’s a way of saying someone was born to another name. This prefix is used whenever referring to someone’s birth name. It can also be used if someone changed their name for reasons other than marriage.
2. “First Last b. Maiden”
An alternative to née is “b.” This prefix refers to someone’s previous name, and it’s commonly used when speaking of maiden names. This would be placed between the existing last name and the maiden name, though it’s less common.
3. “First Last (Maiden)”
Next, many are changing the traditional prefix options to find new ways to display a maiden name on the headstone. Parenthesis are often placed around the maiden name as they are on nicknames. This is less common, but it’s slowly gaining in popularity.
4. “First Maiden, Wife of Partner Name”
For those who believe women should retain their own names even after marriage, this is a progressive option. In this wording idea, the woman's maiden name is presented first instead of last. Her husband’s name is also listed as a way to honor their marriage. This gives both family names equal weight.
5. “First Maiden”
Finally, if the deceased was no longer married at her time of death, the married name doesn’t have to be included at all. This is entirely up to the family, but many find it better to leave this out entirely. Remember, headstones act as historical markers. They should honor your loved one in the way they wished to be remembered.
What Else Should Be Included on a Headstone?
Now that you understand how to list a maiden name on the headstone, what are other things you can include? While there are no hard and fast rules, it’s often considered proper to share more information about your loved one’s life. This is a way to honor his or her memory, and it paints a clear picture of the legacy they leave behind.
Aside from their full name and maiden name, consider these ideas below. This is a highly personal choice, and it’s not a decision to make lightly.
First, an epitaph is a way to memorialize someone who passed. These range from common phrases (“rest in peace”) to more creative statements (“until we live again”). Because headstones usually charge based on the number of characters you use, there may or may not be space for sharing an epitaph.
Date of birth and death
Additionally, most headstones include someone’s date of birth and date of death. Though this might seem somber, it’s a way to include more key information. As we said, these grave markers act as their own form of historical documents. They’re what ancestors use in the future to tell family stories. They can also be a reminder of someone’s death anniversary.
Maiden names aren’t the only way to honor someone’s life. You might also choose to include a nickname on a headstone, especially if this was a name the deceased preferred. This can be included in parentheses, quotation marks, or any way that makes sense to you. It’s important to honor people on their own terms.
For those who value their relationship with their religion, these symbols carry a lot of weight. Religious symbols like crosses, stars, and other meaningful images are a form of remembrance. They also bring peace to loved ones in a time of loss.
Shakespeare said it best: “What’s in a name?” While names have their own meaning, they’re not everything. They don’t reveal who we were or what we did with our time on earth. Conversely, life roles are a great way to paint a whole picture of someone’s legacy. This could be something simple, like “Here lies a beautiful wife and mother” or something honoring one’s service (“Scholar beloved by all students”).
Lastly, photos are an easy way to give a clear representation of who someone was. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. An image is a powerful way to show another side of someone’s life and to put a face behind the name. Today, it’s possible to use laser-etching to add images to gravestones without compromising the material.
Honor Your Loved One’s Final Wishes
Ultimately, there’s no clear answer when it comes to maiden names on headstones. It depends on your loved one’s wishes and how she presented herself. Everyone has a right to choose the name that suits them best. Whether that means taking on a partner’s name or keeping a family name, this is a decision you can’t make for someone else.
Luckily, no matter what you choose, it’s possible to honor your loved one’s wishes in this final act of remembrance. By taking the time to consider what they would want as their headstone inscription, you’re there for them one last time. It’s also a reminder to give thought to how you wish to be remembered.