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History Spotlight: Why Is the Wedding Ring Worn on the Left Hand?

History Spotlight: Why Is the Wedding Ring Worn on the Left Hand?

Alright, everybody—history class is in session; it’s time to put your phones away and focus. You never know! There might even be a pop quiz. Today’s lecture will cover why the wedding ring is traditionally worn on the left hand. 

Ancient Times

To answer this question, we’re gonna hop in our Deloreans and take a trip back to ancient times. Egypt, to be exact—the land of pharaohs and sphinxes, where they believed in the vena amoris or vein of love. They thought there was a vein that led directly from the heart to the second finger from the left on your left hand. 

The Egyptians came up with the vena amoris and the ring was a symbol of the Sun and Moon gods, with the circle used to represent endless love and the empty center of the ring to represent a doorway. This belief spread throughout other ancient empires like Greece and eventually Rome, after this guy named Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332. 

Even though the Egyptians first came up with the “idea” of the vena amoris, this term was first coined by Henry Swinburne of England, in 1686, when his "A Treatise of Espousal or Matrimonial Contracts" was published. 

Now you know where the ring finger gets its name, which is definitely a bit easier and more concise to say than “the second finger from the left on your left hand.” All the other fingers have nicknames; it’s only fitting for the ring finger to have one too!

Well, Actually …

We hate to burst your bubble of romanticism, but the vena amoris doesn’t actually exist. Modern science shows that every finger has a vein leading to the heart, not just your ring finger. If you only had one vein leading from your finger to your heart, you’d have many more serious problems on your hands than deciding on which finger to wear your wedding ring. Science is a liar sometimes, but not this time. 

However, science hasn’t stopped this tradition. It’s still pretty widespread across many different cultures and regions today like the United States, most of Asia, and modern-day Egypt, Greece, and Italy. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were pretty influential, after all, and we could go into that a lot more, but that’s a discussion for another time. 

newly wed couples hands

That’s All There Is to It, Right?!?! 

Not quite. Some countries wear wedding rings on their right hands or on other fingers for a buncha different reasons. Let’s take India. They used to think that the left hand was “impure,” but now it’s socially acceptable to wear a wedding ring on any finger or hand. In Germany and the Netherlands, couples wear their golden engagement rings on their left hands and wedding rings on the right to signify the change in social status. 

The strictness of wearing your ring on the traditional finger also varies from culture to culture. Even with these long-standing traditions, it is becoming more and more acceptable to deviate and do your own thing. Like, here in America, there’s nothing wrong with wearing your wedding ring on your right hand or another finger on your left hand. Some people even “stack” their wedding and engagement rings on top of one another on the same finger to create a badass look. You do you, bro. 

If you do want to blaze your own trail and wear your ring on a different finger, make sure you decide this before ordering and purchasing a ring. Your fingers are all different sizes, so make sure you measure and size with a specific finger in mind. 

two wedding bands stacked

Okay, class, it’s time for that pop quiz! Although we did give you a fair warning at the beginning, so it’s more of a quiz than a pop quiz. 

Anyways, who in the class can tell me why the wedding ring is worn on the left hand? 

*everybody raises hands eagerly* 

Yes, you? 

*student pontificates answer* 

Excellent! That’s correct. You get an A+! Class dismissed.