By Michael Anderson, head of @need Marketing
You may have wondered: Is there a difference between a “mortuary” and a “funeral home?” Why do some death-care providers call themselves one or the other? There are many who think they know the answer, but the truth may not be so clear-cut.
Theory #1: Mortuaries are not full-service operations like funeral homes.
Some light Google research will most likely bring you to the conclusion that mortuaries are more bare-bones operations than full-service funeral homes. Articles from various sources will tell you that a mortuary is where staff care for and prepare a decedent for burial or cremation. They may offer funeral services, but their facilities are often more focused on the decedent themselves. They may have a small viewing space for families, but they don’t typically offer full-service memorial or funeral planning. A mortuary may or may not have a funeral director, although some states do require that they have one.
Overall, this theory posits that mortuaries are not built for the comfort of the decedent’s family. They are designed with mortuary science in mind, and as such, they are not particularly tranquil or opulent locations. Because mortuary science is the focus of a mortuary, on-site cremation is an essential feature that makes these locations what they are.
In comparison to a mortuary, a funeral home might be considered more homely, designed with a desire to give families comfort and a place to grieve in peace. Funeral homes are said to offer more of a full-service experience, with staff who are trained to provide support to loved ones of the decedent. Those funeral directors help the families to plan celebrations for the decedent that are typically larger and more tailored to the family’s desires than a mortuary offers.
Here’s the main problem with this theory: It simply isn’t true.
At least, not of all mortuaries and funeral homes. Take Myers Mortuary in Utah. Its offerings include the full gamut of funeral services, memorial services, cremation and burial. Each of its facilities in Ogden, Roy, Brigham City and Layton include spacious chapels and viewing rooms in which to host families as they carry out ceremonies, viewings and visitations. The business offers both a robust preplanning program as well as a thorough aftercare program. Staff members are deeply involved in their community and have received the Pursuit of Excellence Award from the National Funeral Directors Association.
Now you tell me: Does that sound like the bare-bones, decedent-centric mortuary that was previously described? In fact, Myers is in good company. Several other service providers such as Hart’s Mortuary in Georgia and Porter Loring Mortuary in Texas break the supposed mold of the simplistic mortuary. And these are just a few among many mortuaries that prove this theory for what it is: a misconception.
Theory #2: The terminology is based on region.
Having quickly deduced that Google may not be serving up pure facts on the subject, our team took to social media to conduct our own research. Among the 38% of poll takers who said they believed the terms “mortuary” and “funeral home” were not the same, several agreed that the difference came down to geography.
According to commenters on LinkedIn, the concentration of death-care providers bearing the word “funeral home” is much more commonly used in northern states.
Without research to prove it, this theory can be neither confirmed nor debunked; however, the logic gains merit when combined with the third and final theory on the matter.
Theory #3: They are functionally the same thing; terminology is historically derived.
The other 68% of our LinkedIn poll takers agreed that the terms can be used interchangeably, though one commenter noted that “mortuary” had a more historic sound to it. This would track with the history of the profession, which began with “morgues” (also sometimes called mortuaries) and “undertakers” whose services did not stretch beyond caring for the deceased while family members and clergy oversaw any religious services or ceremonies. It was some time before tradition evolved and the name “funeral home” came into use along with the change in function. This might help explain why there are more mortuaries based in the South than in the North.
The theory holds up in speaking with our funeral home partners who use the term mortuary. The owners of Myers Mortuary, founded in 1921, and Hart’s Mortuary, founded in 1899, both cited their firm’s history as the reason for their chosen nomenclature. In no way did the name indicate anything about their services – it was purely a linguistic heirloom, passed down from the founders of their firms.
For the time being, we must conclude that the terms “mortuary” and “funeral home” have no significant bearing on the type of service one may receive from them. In fact, as terms like “celebration of life” and “tribute” become more popular than “funeral service,” we may soon see that both names begin to fade from use, replaced by ever more progressive titles.
Michael Anderson is the head of @need Marketing, a full-service agency helping funeral homes connect with their communities through creative and strategic methods. He uses his personal background in the funeral profession and extensive experience in sales to provide partners with effective marketing strategies that are relevant for funeral homes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.