You might have been in a piano class learning about fingering. Or at an elementary school listening to nursery rhymes like ♫ this little piggy had roast beef ♫ which left wondering why pigs eat meat and whether that’s what makes bacon so good. It might even have been a less pleasant scenario where you got into an argument and wondered why they call it ‘the finger’.
Either way, at some point, you’ve wondered about phalanges and how we chose their names. We’re mostly interested in the ring finger and how it got selected as the sign for nuptial bliss. Also, is there a reason you wear your wedding band and engagement ring on the left hand … even when you’re left-handed? Let’s dig into this and other curious facts about fingers.
1. Finger Length Can Vary
This seems obvious, but there’s a little more to it. For the average person, their middle finger is the longest and their pinkie or little finger is the shortest. But the comparative length of your index finger and ring finger vary. Some say this is an indicator of in-utero testosterone exposure.
The idea is your index finger represents male energy (testosterone) while your ring finger represents female energy (estrogen) were still a fetus growing in your mother’s womb. So people whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers may have more ‘feminine traits’ like charm and while linger index fingers suggest ‘masculine features’ like leadership skills.
2. Finger Names Have Mixed Origins
In English, every finger has a name, which isn’t necessarily true in other languages. Your thumb derives from ‘tum’ which roughly translates as ‘the swollen one’. Your index finger comes from ‘indico’ meaning ‘to point out’ so it’s sometimes called the pointer, and we use it for that. A lot.
It’s also labeled the forefinger – because it’s the first finger after your thumb. The middle finger is obvious, though its offensive connotation is murky. Let’s skip the ring finger and jump to the pinkie, which is allegedly Scottish (and Dutch) for ‘small’. It may also come from pinkeye or pinck oodgen, meaning small eyes or contracted pupils. Either way, it’s the little finger.
3. They Called it Vena Amoris – the Lover’s Vein
We attribute a lot to the Ancient Egyptians and their alleged genius, but they did get a few things wrong. Their ‘medics’ believes a vein in the ring finger led straight to the heart, so a man would claim his bride by ‘fingering her heart’ with a ring, so to speak. The Roman later disproved this.
But the habit had already been established so it stuck. Men didn’t wear wedding rings back then, and even today, many don’t. It was something their wives wore, and still is. Bridal rings represent infinite, endless, eternal love as depicted by an unbroken circle. This symbol is placed on the ring finger that was thought to straight to her heart, literally. It’s a cute concept.
4. Wedding Rings Aren’t Always on the Left
You may have assumed – like many of us do – that it’s a matter of practicality. Most people are right-handed, so they would naturally want their ring on their less dominant hand, right? Except that in Old Europe, many brides wore their bridal rings on their right hand instead. The Romans did believe the lover’s vein was on the left hand, so that may have something to do with it.
Plus, the men didn’t wear rings, so it probably wasn’t about dominant hand usage. But reed wedding rings and engagement rings were first worn in Ancient Egypt, then Rome, before eventually being incorporated in Jewish and Christian nuptials. And in Greek Orthodoxy, the first three fingers represent the Holy Trinity while the fourth is for carnal, terrestrial love.
5. The Left Ring Finger Came From the Church
Initially, even the men who deigned to wear wedding rings preferred theirs on the right. It was a symbol of strength, and left-handed-ness was sometimes blamed on demonic possession, so natural ‘lefties’ would do everything to hide it or change. Even today, some communities fear it.
They will make left-handed children tie a hand behind their back to ‘force’ the use the right hand, pun intended. But bishop and reformer Thomas Cramer advised his protestant flock to switch their wedding rings to the left in his 1549 Book of Common Prayer. For him, it was a subversive form of breaking away from harmful Catholic traditions. They did. And it stuck.
6. Yes, the Metal Matters
We’ve mentioned the original Ancient Egyptian wedding rings were made of reeds. Eventually, the world moved to metal wedding rings. The most common kind of wedding band in unadorned yellow gold, which is said to signify fidelity. Rose gold is mixed with copper to give it a pinkish blush tone, said to symbolize romantic love. White gold is tinged with silver, tin, or palladium.
It’s a sign of friendship so it’s increasingly favored by contemporary couples who balk against patriarchal norms and view each other more as equals. Modern marriages will sometimes have both partners wearing a mixed metal ring with white, rose, and yellow gold fused to reflect their views on nuptial bliss. Platinum is tough, versatile, and hypoallergenic, so it’s getting popular.
7. So Does the Stone
Conventional wedding bands are plain yellow gold without gemstones. The rings may be engraved with the couple’s names, the wedding date, or a phrase that has meaning for them. Usually, it’s the engagement ring that bears a precious stone, symbolizing that the potential groom sees his bride-to-be as a treasure. Men rarely wear engagement rings – even today.
Engagement rings are traditionally diamonds set in white gold. And just like wedding rings, the metal matters and sends different signals, depending on what you use. For a lot of today’s couples, diamonds are ethically questionable, so the couple would rather use a symbolic gemstone such as a birthstone. Or they may opt for a family heirloom like grandma’s ring.
8. Three-stone Rings are Special
You probably don’t know much about stone arrangements on wedding rings. Eternity rings, for example, have gemstones encrusted around the band to symbolize the endless union they represent. Rings with infinity coils imply the same thing. But if the ring has three stones, they usually memorialize love, fidelity, and friendship, just like the three shades of gold.
Some couples prefer a more literal interpretation – they see the three stones as past, present, and future. In this way, their three-stone rings immortalize the fusion of their lives including their histories, their memories, their families, and the life they plan to build together. Of course for many people, marriage is a religious institution, so to them, it’s obviously the Holy Trinity.
9. Trio Rings are Special Too
Despite contemporary sensibilities, many husbands still refuse to wear wedding rings. These guys often consider any adornment beyond a rugged wristwatch ‘too feminine’. But some guys can set aside their toxic masculinity for the woman they love. These are truly modern men.
They’re proud to wear a wedding band, and they’re far more likely to opt for a trio ring at their wedding. The trio comprises two rings for the bride (engagement ring + matching wedding ring, designed to be worn as a pair with the engagement ring usually on top) and one for the groom.
The rings will be made as a set, so their metals, stones, and designs complement each other. The bride’s rings are shaped to sit snug and simultaneous on her finger. So they may have jigsaw-type stones and grooves that click together. They look like a single or joint ring on your finger.
10. This Secret Sizing Tip Works
Many times, a guy will want to surprise his girl with a proposal. But he can’t do that without a ring. And if he starts asking about rings, the jig is up. Yes, her friends and family can tell you the type of ring she likes, but they might not know her ring size. Here’s a cheeky way to find out. Put a different ring on her left ring finger. You’ll have to creative to ensure she doesn’t guess.
It could even be a cereal ring or a cheerio. Once it fits, get it off her finger without her noticing and test it one of yours. Chances are it’s more of a midi ring on you, or maybe a pinkie ring. Now you know her ring size. Hopefully, her weight won’t shift before you buy the ring, but you can always resize it if needed. As long as you propose within months, the shift won’t be too drastic.
11. You Can Send Secret Message
If you don’t want a diamond on your ring finger, you could buy a stone for its applied meaning. Yes, birthstones are related to horoscopes. But the stones sometimes have intrinsic imagery assigned to them. For example, rubies are for courage and passion. Tourmaline and amethyst are said to heal. Emeralds claim fertility while lovers of lapis lazuli say it’s an aphrodisiac.
But have you heard of acrostic rings? In these rings, every stone represents a letter of the alphabet. So while her ring finger may look pretty and colorful, you can code the stones to spell out her name, your first date anniversary, or a message of significance. If the groom will wear a ring, he can spell the same message, though he may opt for smaller ‘more masculine’ stones.
12. Other Fingers Also Count
It’s no secret that many men frown on wearing rings. So for most of them, they’ll compromise on a wedding band but that’s it. Still, if you’re a guy and you want to wear something that’s not on your ring finger, consider the symbolism. Class, club, or team rings are often worn on the index finger while pinky rings are seen as a bold statement. They can be rather intricate in design.
For couples with trio rings, the wife can wear both her rings on her ring finger if they were designed for a snug, low-fuss fit. But if the two rings are two bulky and fancy to go together, she can opt to always wear her engagement ring on her right hand and her bridal band on her left. Thumb rings are seen more like a power move, and middle finger rings are … rare.
13. The Meaning is a Bit Different for Women
For women, jewelry can be a beauty accessory or a symbol of affection. For men, it’s mostly a status symbol. So his ring finger shows his marital status and his index shows his social status. A man wearing two pinkie rings may indicate he’s married and in the mafia. (Or maybe married to the mafia?) If it’s just one ring, it could be a signet ring with his family crest and banner.
A younger woman in religious circles might wear a promise ring or chastity ring on her left ring finger. It shows her intention to stay ‘pure’ until her wedding night. For all genders, a middle finger ring may symbolize balance or rebellion. People who’ve never worn rings before may opt for this finger, since it’s bold, centralized, and has no preconceived societal sentiments.
Bonus Fact: Hiding Your Ring is a Thing
In movies and tabloids, a man slips his ring into his pocket when he wants to pick up women. Surprisingly, some PUA forums recommend the opposite approach of wearing a fake wedding ring to spark jealousy and intrigue as dating bait. But significant rings are expensive, and they can get lost or damaged. Jewelers advise against wearing them at night, or at busy events.
Obama famously slips off his rings before public functions, because he’s worried he may lose it while shaking hands. Many couples also remove their rings to do the dishes or clean the car. When you do take off your ring, be sure you know where you’ve kept it. Because no matter how innocent and well-meaning your reasons were, there’s no explaining your missing wedding ring.
Are you wearing anything on your ring finger right now? Or any of your other fingers? Show us those hands in the comments, we’d love to see your finger photos …
My name is Vanessa, Editor and Writer of Something Borrowed Jewelry. Here I talk about my love for diamonds, rings, and all fashion of Jewellery.