The funeral industry has a number of job titles. But what was once known as an “undertaker” wasn’t getting enough interest back in the late 19th century. That’s when the industry decided to change its name to “mortician.” A mortician’s job title was the result of a PR campaign and a magazine plea.
The term mortician was invented as part of a PR campaign by the funeral industry, which felt it was more customer-friendly than “undertaker.” The term was chosen after a call for ideas in Embalmer’s Monthly.
A PR boost for a mortician’s job
According to Mental Floss (cited below), the more customer-friendly “mortician” came after a plea for new ideas on renaming the undertaker’s position in the 1895 edition of the trade magazine The Embalmers’ Monthly. If you’re missing that particular issue, Mental Floss can fill in the blanks.
It appears that the job title of mortician was believed to be “more customer-friendly than undertaker, which originally referred to the contractor who undertakes all the funeral arrangements, but had become tarnished by its centuries-old association with, well, death.”
But there was more to a mortician’s job than just a name change. As embalming became more widespread, those who had the skill wanted to distinguish themselves from “the undertakers of the past…”
Mental Floss notes that “Embalmers’ Monthly put out a call for suggestions. The next month they declared mortician the winner: It elegantly combined the Latin root for death, mort-, with physician, referencing embalming’s scientific, high-status connection with the medical profession. Of course, everyone except the morticians hated it.”
Grammarians hated the fact that it was an unattested word in Latin (one made up from pieces of the language and never used in the ancient world). The Chicago Tribune even banned the use of the word. And yet, today, we use it without thinking.
Eventually, people simply forgot it was a made-up word. — WTF fun facts