Headstone vs. Tombstone vs. Gravestone? Which is which? Nowadays all three words mean the same thing, but they all have different origins.


The word “gravestone” dates back to the 12th-13th centuries, and became very popular between the years 1175 and 1225. A gravestone is a term used to refer to a large stone that is placed on top of a burial plot, typically engraved with information about the person who has passed away. This information may include their name, dates of birth and death, and sometimes an epitaph or a short phrase that commemorates their life.


Around 1400, the term “headstone” came into existence, and was used as a synonym for cornerstone. The connection between cornerstones and grave markers makes sense when considering the specific details that cornerstones emphasize and the placement of grave markers on burial plots. By 1775, the word headstone had evolved to mean “upright stone at the head of a grave”.


The term “tombstone” is the most recent of the three words, first being used around 1560. Tombstone has Greek origin, with the word “tymbos” meaning “burial mound”, and the word “stia” meaning “pebble”. During the mid-16th century, the term tombstone was used to refer to the stone lid that was commonly placed on stone coffins.