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Headstone Symbols

Headstone symbols have been used for centuries. People erect headstones to commemorate the dead and use symbols to communicate something special about their departed loved one.

Many people choose symbols based on the theme of the headstone design or just because they like the way the symbol looks. Knowledge of what a symbol means will enhance your appreciation of it as well as help you say what you really want to say about the person in the limited space available on a headstone.

After the memorial service and cemetery burial you should take time to reflect upon the significance of your loved one and the life they lived. Before committing to a particular design, you should consider the following aspects of headstone design.

Headstone symbols may play a significant part in your monument design. These symbols add a special and sometimes overlooked meaning to your headstone. As you walk through a cemetery, you are liable to see the same symbol again and again. Do you know what these symbols represent?

There is a lot of information about symbols found in this article called Cemetery Art and Symbolism.

Another site that has a very nice collection of memorial symbols, strangely enough, is the vintageviews.org site. This site is partly based on someone's postcard collection!

For those who have been in the military, an interesting set of military headstone symbols can be found on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs site. It's called the "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers".

Among the most popular symbols used in the greater Philadelphia area are crosses, flowers, and hearts. Two of most popular flowers for headstones are lilies and roses. A lily on a headstone can signify innocence and purity; a rose may signify romance or passion.

While reviewing the symbols below, be aware that the meanings can change over time and their meanings often depends upon the area in which they are located. You will find a few of the more common headstone symbols below.

Headstone Symbols

  • Butterfly - the freeing of the spirit
  • Dog - loyalty
  • Frog - worldly pleasures
  • Lamb - purity and innocence
  • Lion - the power of God
  • Fish - faith

Body Parts
  • Arms outstretched - mercy
  • Clasped hands - farewell
  • Hand pointing up - pathway to heaven
  • Hand pointing down - mortality
  • Hand holding heart - charity
  • Heart - love

  • Bird in flight - the flight of the soul
  • Dove - the Holy Spirit in the Christian Religion
  • Eagle - courage or a military career
  • Owl - wisdom
  • Rooster - awakening

  • Cedar tree - consecration
  • Cypress tree - morning
  • Heart encircled with thorns - suffering of Christ
  • Olive tree - peace
  • Palm: victory or Christ's victory over death
  • Angel blowing a trumpet - resurrection

  • Daisy - Innocence, youth, hope
  • Forget-me-not - remberance
  • Lily - Easter, purity, innocence, heavenly bliss, the Blessed Virgin
  • Morning Glory - Bonds of love and affection
  • Rose - Love, wisdom, beauty
  • Sunflower - Adoration
  • Voilet - Faithfulness, modesty
  • Weeping Willow - Mortality, mourning

  • Arch - victory in life or death
  • Anchor - hope, a disguised Christian cross
  • Cross - Christianity or suffering
  • Crown - reward or glory in the afterlife
  • Cradle - childhood loss
  • Sunflower - Adoration
  • Scales - judgment of the dead

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