Funeral Terms That Have Passed On: Outdated Funeral Terminology

Funeral terms – words and phrases used in the funeral industry – evolve like terminology used in most industries. But because the funeral industry is so important to society, and because funeral services connect generations, certain outmoded funeral terms linger. Let’s consider some funeral terms once considered appropriate that have now fallen out of favor:

Funeral Parlor

This phrase likely originated when it was common for the dead body to be displayed in the home of the family of the deceased. It was traditional for friends and family to come to the home and pay their respects, viewing the recently deceased in the parlor room. In many communities, large older homes were converted to funeral homes, and so the connection to the “parlor” was carried on. Today, the phrase “funeral parlor” continues to be used, even though it hasn’t been accurate for generations. The favored term for many years has been, and continues to be, “funeral home” even though many funeral homes are purpose-built facilities – like ours at Stillinger Family Funeral Home –designed to provide a full range of funeral care and related services.


A “wake” was initially an extended prayer vigil during which those in attendance stayed with the body in the home (usually in the “parlor”, of course), often in a state of continuing prayer. Today, the modern iteration of a “wake” is more accurately called a “visitation” and is held in the funeral home. Other terms commonly used are “viewing” and “calling,” although these, too, are becoming less favored than “visitation”.


“Coffin” is an archaic term still used – inaccurately – as a synonym for “casket,” which is the longstanding preferred funeral term. What’s the difference? Simply put, a traditional coffin was (and still is, in many parts of the world) a box for containment and burial of the deceased, usually used when there is no embalming of the body. A coffin differs from a casket by shape, too, as it is tapered at the head and foot ends and is widest at the shoulders. A casket, on the other hand, is often used for display of the embalmed body, and is rectangular, with no tapers.


According to Wikipedia, the term “hearse” is “derived, through the French herse, from the Latin herpex, which means a harrow. The funeral hearse was originally…provided with numerous spikes to hold burning candles, and, owing to the resemblance of these spikes to the teeth of a harrow, was called a hearse. Later on, the word was applied…to any receptacle in which the coffin was placed. Thus, it came to denote the vehicle in which the dead are carried to the grave.” Today, the more accurate and preferred term in the funeral industry is “funeral coach”.

Undertaker or Mortician

While “mortician” may be technically accurate as a term to describe someone who provides mortuary services in preparing the dead body for the visitation and funeral, “undertaker” is a particularly outmoded term. Today, the preferred term in most cases is “Funeral Director”, as the funeral home staff is often skilled at providing many funeral-related services to families.

At Stillinger Family Funeral Home, we believe it is important not only to serve families in their time of need, but also to help educate our communities about what we do. Funeral terms may come into, and go out of, favor, but our commitment to providing superior funeral services and compassionate care never goes out of style. To learn more, contact us at (317) 462-5536.

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