Clearing Up Funeral Terminology

Posted on March 29, 2016
In today’s world, many people use outdated or obsolete terms when describing funerals or terminology used by funeral homes. It’s not surprising—many terms can be used interchangeably, while others have come into existence more recently. 

Here’s some clarification on some of the most common terms that are misused.

Funeral vs. Memorial

Funeral—For many people, the word ‘funeral’ can be associated with any and all types of services. It is becoming very common for people to call a funeral a memorial. However, there is a difference—a service is called a funeral when the body of the deceased is present, whether it is open or closed casket.

Memorial—Memorial services come in many forms, and can be held anywhere. Some people call memorials Celebrations of Life, which can be very similar, but the largest distinction of a memorial service is that the cremated remains (also known as cremains) of the deceased may be present. When you see that a friend is having a memorial service, it is a big indicator that the deceased’s body will not be present at the service.

Interment vs. Inurnment

While interment and inurnment aren’t often confused, many people don’t realize that there are two separate terms regarding the burial of a body (interment) and cremains (inurnment). Cremains in urns can be buried in cemeteries, just as the casket can.

Something to keep in mind is that people often confuse interment and internment, but the latter is used to describe the imprisonment or confinement of a large group of people—a slight spelling change makes all the difference!

Wake vs. Viewing vs. Visitation

All of these terms, technically, refer to the family greeting friends before the service, but there are a few slight differences between them all.

Wake—This term is the most traditional of the three, and something you don’t hear nearly as often anymore. While wake is sometimes used interchangeably with visitation, the term refers to a time when family would gather and sit a vigil all night with the deceased at the family’s home. Friends could then visit the house to pay their respects.

Viewing—A viewing is another term we don’t often see anymore, but it would refer to the “viewing” of the deceased, which would require an open casket. So this term could really only apply to certain cases.

Visitation—By far, visitation is the word you will hear to describe the modern thinking behind the gathering before a funeral or memorial service. Usually visitations take place the day before or the hours before the service, and are common with both funerals and memorials. They can be held at the funeral home, church, or even cemetery.

Undertaker vs. Mortician vs. Funeral Director

Undertaker—An undertaker is someone who “undertakes” the responsibility of running a funeral home and the care of a body and funeral arrangements.

Mortician—Just like undertaker, the word mortician is becoming outdated rapidly. Even though it is still an accurate term to describe someone who prepares a body for burial and runs a funeral home, most professionals do not use the term anymore.

Funeral Director—Funeral Director is the modern equivalent of mortician, and it is likely the word you will hear used if you stepped into any funeral home today.

Are there any other terms that you find confusing or need explanation? Let us know and we can help you out!


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