Glossary of Funeral Terms You Should Know

When you are entering into the funeral industry, it is important to familiarize yourself with common funeral language that might be used during your apprenticeship or by vendors the funeral home contacts.

Industry language is an important part of efficient operation. Knowing the lingo ahead of time will help you save time and social standing later.

Even if you are working in a funeral home, it can be important to learn the funeral language used by crematories and cemeteries.

Likewise, if you are trying to move up in the career path, learning basic industry lingo can show your funeral director that you are passionate about the industry and are willing to advance in the career. After all, an eager employee makes a great promotion candidate.

Don’t have experience working for a funeral home yet, but you are trying to get hired on? Impress the hiring manager when you go in for your interview with your newfound knowledge from this list of funeral lingo.

This list is provided courtesy of 4BSF, the leading source for funeral home financing, seller connections, and learning about how to operate your funeral home business. Review this glossary of funeral homes today to discover more about the funeral industry and related operations.

Why Should You Know Cemetery and Death Terminology?

Knowing burial and cemetery words are important for funeral directors and the staff of funeral homes to properly relay the proper procedures to cemetery officials and the family of the deceased.

Most families who need the services of a funeral home will not understand the lingo, and there is no need for them to when they first step into the funeral home room.

It is the responsibility of the funeral director to help them understand the terms and explain their options in a way that makes sense in common vernacular. [1] To do that, they must first understand the technical terms, so they do not rely the wrong information to the family.


“Customer experience is at the center of our profession. Many times, this begins before a death has occurred and extends to well after the service is over. At the end of the day, simply treating our customers as we would want to be treated is the golden rule that stands the test of time.”

—  Walker Posey


Families who have a good experience with a funeral home director are going to become an asset to the funeral home. They will take that good experience forward, the feeling that the funeral director truly cared about how they were feeling and the struggle they were going through, and they will come back because they understand that it is a safe space.

Death is a part of life, and if those families can recommend a place that will make the transition into grief and healing easier, they will. They will tell their friends and family they had a good experience, and depending on their age, they may even arrange pre-planning services for themselves to lessen the burden on their immediate family when they pass.

While the funeral directory may need to explain exactly what the process is, most people have attended the funeral of a friend or distant relative, so they understand what a viewing and memorial service is.

The more technical terms arise when it becomes their job to arrange the funeral of someone close to them.

If you are a passionate funeral home director looking to purchase your first funeral home, you will want to brush up with a glossary of funeral language to make the best impression on customers, even if you have been in the industry for a long time.

Double-checking your information and ensuring the families get the right information the first time is critical in garnering the trust of your first customers. 

Learn: Glossary of Terms

Like many industries, the funeral industry has a wealth of procedures and services that are specific to the language and colloquialisms used by individuals who work with it every day.

This funeral glossary is meant to serve as a cursory guide to helping professionals and curious clients alike better understand language within the industry, with easy explanations and straightforward wording.

Whether you are looking for language specific to funerals, funeral arrangements, cremation, cemeteries, or something else around the subject of funeral services, you’ll find it here.

This list is provided by BSF, a resource for funeral professionals in learning more about funeral home loans and financing, selling, or buying funeral homes. For more information about our services, contact us today to find out how we can help you along your path to success.  

What is a Cremation Service called?

There are three different ways to have a loved one cremated. The first is to have a traditional funeral service followed by the cremation – called “Traditional Funeral Service Followed by Cremation”.

The second type of cremation service is a “Memorial Service” where the body is cremated ahead of the service and the funeral service proceeds without the body. The disposition of the ashes would take place after the service.

The third type is direct cremation, where the body is cremated without any funeral service or memorial. This is occasionally called a “Simple Cremation” or “Direct Cremation.”

What is Immediate Burying?

An immediate burial is the act of burying a deceased individual without a formal viewing, visitation, or ceremony. This is often done without embalming or other processes meant to keep the body fresh during these ceremonies. Typically, a graveside ceremony will be held instead for the immediate family of the deceased.

What are Funeral Arrangements called?

Making funeral arrangements for yourself is called “Pre-planning” when you inform the funeral home ­and family members of your wishes ahead of time, and “Pre-Paying” is when you make financial payments on a funeral service for yourself. Both acts are considered “Preneed” services or “advanced planning.”

Making funeral arrangements for another person does not have a special term and is usually referred to as “making arrangements” or “arranging their funeral.”

What is a Wake for the Deceased?

Traditionally held as a watch over the body of the deceased. This is often held the night before the funeral and can help family members remember and grieve their loved one. This ceremony may last the entire night before the funeral. Wakes may have the casket closed, but most commonly are held with an open casket. Modern language uses this interchangeably with a shorter memorial service or viewing prior to the funeral.  

What does In-State mean in Funerals?

Some funerals, especially for funerals of public figures, may have the body remain “in-state” or “lying in state” which is a traditional part of funeral services for government officials. The body is placed in a state building, either inside or outside of a coffin. This viewing is traditional to allow members of the public to pay their respects to the deceased.

What is the Difference Between a Casket and a Coffin?

Most people use the word casket and coffin interchangeably, and their functionality indeed remains the same, but the style is different. A coffin has a tapered shoulder with a removable lid, while a casket is rectangular and flat with a hinged lid.  

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a written announcement of a person’s death that appears publicly. This written statement describes the personality of the deceased, their life, and information about the funeral service.

What is a Eulogy?

A eulogy is a speech typically delivered at the funeral service. This is sometimes prepared or delivered by close members of the deceased’s family so it is personalized, however, families may opt for it to be a speaker provided by the funeral home. It is a speech to remember the deceased, their personality, and praise the life they lived.

What is a Speaker Called?

The funeral speaker is the one who speaks at the funeral or memorial service to deliver the eulogy. They are typically called the “Eulogist” and are one of the most important parts of a funeral service.

What Do You Call an Attendee?

People who attend funerals or memorial services are called “mourners.” The dress code for a funeral service is often simple formal wear in black, but this may be different if the family of the deceased has chosen an alternative style of the funeral to better celebrate the deceased’s life, rather than mourning their death. Unless a dress code is specified, these individuals should arrive in black. Short, black veils are common for women, but not necessary.

What is an Interment?

Interment is the act of burying the body in a grave or a tomb. It is known simply as a “burial” and interment typically includes funeral rites, which is the funeral service, or a ceremony otherwise connected with the burial of the body.

What is a Columbarium?

A columbarium is a public wall or storage place for crematory urns. This is popular with “indoor graveyards” which allow family members to visit the cremated remains of the deceased year-round in places with harsh weather.

What is a Niche?

A burial niche is a space in a columbarium, mausoleum, or wall with niches marked in it to hold cremated remains. This niche can also be buried.

What is a Grave Without a Body Called?

A grave without a body may have a marker and all other indications of being a grave but is simply missing the body and casket. This is called a Cenotaph.

What is a Plot?

A burial plot is the space which the body is laid to rest in a cemetery, typically in-ground in an outdoor location. This space may be owned by either a family or an individual and can be used to bury either remains in a casket, or ashes that have been placed in an urn.

What is Pre-Need?

Pre-need, sometimes also called “advanced arrangements” or “pre-planning”, is the act of arranging a funeral, memorial, or other services before death. Either the person or their family, but often both, are involved in pre-need discussions. These memorial and burial services can range anywhere from simply recording the person’s wishes upon death – which requires that the person is present – or simply paying for services in advance, which may not require the person to be present.

Individual Pet Incremation

This type of cremation refers to one or two methods of cremating a deceased pet. The first requires that the pet is cremated alone in the chamber, also sometimes referred to as private pet cremation.

The second is more common, sometimes referred to as “partitioned pet cremation,” where several bodies are placed in the chamber and are separated by bricks, clay, or another physical means.

While the bodies are physically separated in this case, ashes may mingle with other remains during the cremation process. This is most commonly chosen for individuals who are having multiple pets cremated, or who are not concerned with the ashes mingling.

Private Pet Incremation

In this type of cremation, only your pet is placed into the cremation chamber after they have died with a lid closed on top, ensuring that you receive only your pet’s ashes. Only one pet may be placed in the chamber at a time, even if you are having multiple animals cremated. This is the best option for pet owners who are looking to have their deceased pet cremated and ensure that the ashes they receive have not come in contact with other animals’ ashes.

What is a General Price List?

This itemized list, often abbreviated as GPL, is something that every funeral must provide to clients upon request. This showcases all of the items and services that the funeral home offers to the person, along with costs. This helps provide transparency with the client, allowing them to read over the funeral’s costs and ensures that pricing is sustained throughout the contract.

What is the FTC Funerary Rule?

A rule enacted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ensures that clients are only required to pay for services and goods that they have selected as something they want or need, and no other “hidden” services or fees. This ensures that funeral homes remain respectable places of business.

Glossary During Funeral Planning

Planning a funeral comes with its own list of funeral lingo that can have anyone swimming in unfamiliar territory. Some funeral professionals like the lingo and tend to sprinkle it into the conversation around clients who have never planned a funeral before.

There is nothing wrong with using funeral terminology in a funeral home, but it pays to explain the language to your clients in easy-to-understand ways before diving into the deep end. In the section below, we will cover several items that you might cover in each step of funeral planning in a step by step manner to help alleviate any confusion.

  1. Choose the Burial Type, or “Disposition”

There are several types of burials that families can ask for after the death of a person, rather than a traditional in-ground burial or crematory service. While these are the traditional options and remain the most popular options for burials, many funeral homes have begun offering green burials, sea burials, or anatomical donations. These options allow the living to choose what the deceased would have preferred after death, rather than spending large amounts for a cookie-cutter service, open or closed casket memorial service.

Traditional Burials: This is the standard burial where the deceased is placed in a coffin and buried in-ground. The individual(s) responsible for arranging the funeral will obtain the burial rights for the deceased, which secures their place in the ground for a set amount of time. This is similarly known as a full-service funeral, and for many funeral homes, this burial type includes the viewing, a formal funeral service, use of a hearse, and in-ground burial.

Cremation: Families may opt for a cremation service, which is typically considered the “budget option” for funeral services. Cremation often takes place after the viewing and memorial, allowing the living time to grieve and provide a service for the deceased. During cremation, the body is subjected to high temperatures so that it is reduced to the bone, then pulverized into powder. This is commonly referred to as “ashes” but is simply the powdered remains. The remains are then placed in an urn and given to the living.

Green Burials: Green burials are an alternative burial procedure known as a “natural burial.” This is the interment of a body without a traditional coffin.

“Embalming — the preservation of human remains for public display through the use of a chemical mixture that delays decomposition and makes the body “look natural” — is more of a cosmetic procedure than a public health safeguard.”

— Sonya Vatomsky

Embalming fluids and other methods of preparing the body that would interfere with the natural decomposition process are not allowed by law, thereby making the burial safe for the environment, allow the deceased remains of the person to naturally decompose. a memorial may still be held at an estate or cemetery.

Sea Burials: Sea burials, known as burials at sea, is an alternative burial procedure to traditional burials in a cemetery. In this way, the body is taken out to sea on a ship or boat, where the body is then disposed of so that decomposition can happen underwater. This type of service is regularly performed by navies but is rising in popularity with private citizens, especially along coastal regions and areas where cemetery burial is prohibitively expensive.

Anatomical Donation: Anatomical donation, also known as body donation or body bequest, allows the whole body of the deceased to be donated and used for research and educational purposes. Donated remains are used for surgical anatomy and for furthering medical education or research. This may be refused if the deceased is registered under other categories, such as an organ donator, as organ donation will take precedence; however, if the deceased is found to be ineligible for organ donation, their registration for whole body donation may be accepted.

  1. Choose the Type of Remembrance Service

How would the living like to remember their loved one, and how they used to act, or things they used to enjoy? Visitations and memorial services are common before any burial, whether they choose an alternative procedure or opt for a traditional burial or cremation.

Above all else, it is important that during the funeral or after cremation, the living has a chance to remember the life that was lived, and that everyone shares a moment to cherish them and begin the first stages of healing. Some families may choose to have a religious ceremony, or a celebration of the deceased’s life, rather than a somber memorial in light of their death. This is a very personal experience, so while funeral home professionals can suggest options based on their understanding of the deceased, it is important not to pressure them into something that does not fit their loved one’s personality.

  1. Choose Personalization Options for the Funeral

Personalization of funeral and memorial services can be a very meaningful choice and a funeral can be key to allowing families to start the grieving and healing process. Every part of the funeral procession should be in some way shaped by the personality of the deceased person.

Some funeral homes in the US may require personalization of funeral items, or it may be optional for others. These personalization options may also be used on an urn, jewelry, plaques, or other cemetery items, called memorial items, tributes, or personal effects. These can be a mix of personal items from the deceased as well as décor that suited their personality. Religious ties and hobbies of the person may be showcased strongly here, depending on what the family of the deceased person wants.

  1. Choose a Place of Rest for Your Loved One

In the case of a traditional burial, the family must choose a burial plot and form to obtain the rights to. In cremation services, the family may choose an urn through the funeral home or purchase an urn from a third party. Depending on the options available to the funeral home, families may choose any number of resting places, such as a columbarium, where urns are placed, a mausoleum, or a burial plot depending on the cemetery.

  1. Choose a Method of Payment

Funerals have a bad rep for being expensive, sending families into debt to prove that they loved their family members dearly enough to provide a burial. [2]


“You must understand that love is not measured by the contents of a checking account or a credit card limit. Do not let anyone (be they friend or foe, funeral director or family member) “guilt” you into purchasing that which you do not need or cannot afford.”

— Carole Brody Fleet


For many, however, the chances are that the deceased would not have wanted to burden their family with years of debt and expensive funeral packages. Money does not represent how much the family loved the deceased, and progressive funeral homes can go the extra mile to help families make some wiggle room, cut costs and give the deceased a burial that suits their personality.

For example, some funeral homes have taken to providing grief counseling after the funeral, going the extra mile to help families through bereavement – and making more money with better cash flow than they would have if they used that time to upsell the family on a more expensive coffin.


  1. Forbes
  2. HuffPost