See someone wearing a ring on their right index finger and you can bet they’re not married. A ring on the left ring finger, though, means that person is “taken.” The choice of wedding ring finger seems arbitrary, but there’s actually historical reason it became known as the “ring finger,” and why most people wear their wedding band on the left.
History of the wedding ring finger
The wedding ring tradition dates back to ancient Egypt, as archaeologists have found evidence in hieroglyphics that brides would wear a ring, according to the BBC. Find out exactly why people proposed with rings, then and now. And other ancient cultures wore wedding rings as well; people have been slipping wedding rings on their left ring fingers since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The reason the fourth finger was the wedding ring finger of choice? There’s a touching explanation. “In ancient times, it was thought that there was a vein in your finger on your left hand that ran straight to your heart,” explains Bernadette Chapman, the founder of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners. And the heart, of course, was thought to be the center of our emotions back then. So ancient Romans called this vein the vena amoris, Latin for “vein of love.”
Our knowledge of the human body has evolved greatly since then, of course. Most notably…we humans have no such vein, sadly. In addition, we know now that the heart is an organ for pumping blood—but that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to talk about it in romantic, emotional contexts. Likewise, we still wear wedding rings on our fourth fingers! Learn more about wedding history by finding out where the tradition of proposing on bended knee came from.
Variations on the tradition
Despite the prevalence of this wedding ring finger tradition, especially throughout Western cultures, not everyone follows it to a T. “Some cultures choose freedom and individuality when it comes to deciding for themselves which hand to wear it on,” celebrant business coach Jennifer Claire Constant explains. “Couples from European countries such as Austria, Denmark, and Germany actually wear the rings on their right hand instead.” People in India opt for a right-hand ring as well, “because the left hand is considered unclean,” Constant told Reader’s Digest. Check out these other cool wedding traditions from around the world.
If anything, the variations on the wedding ring finger tradition show that even the most long-standing of marriage-related traditions don’t have to be hard and fast. But there are still some wedding etiquette rules experts think you should never, ever break.