There are a ton of wedding traditions in place when a couple ties the knot, from getting down on one knee to propose to walking down the aisle and wearing your wedding ring on your left hand. The choice of wedding ring finger may seem arbitrary (or maybe it just seems like a bit of proper wedding etiquette), but there’s actually a historical reason behind which finger became known as the “ring finger” and why most people wear their wedding band on the left hand.
In Western cultures, the tradition is for a wedding ring to be worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. Engagement rings are also typically worn on this finger until the wedding day. Once the wedding band itself comes into play, it usually sits below the engagement ring on that fourth finger.
The right ring finger can still be a sign of love, romance, and relationships. While in Western cultures it’s common to wear a wedding band on the left hand, in others, it’s more common to wear a wedding ring on the right finger—but more on that later. Alternatively, traditions fade over time, and some people just prefer to wear their wedding bands on their right finger due to comfort.
The history of wedding rings dates back to ancient Egypt, as archaeologists have found evidence in hieroglyphics that brides would wear a ring, according to the BBC. Other ancient cultures wore wedding rings as well, and people have been slipping wedding rings on their left ring finger 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, founder of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners. And the heart, of course, was thought to be the center of our emotions. 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. Most notably, we now know that humans have no such vein, sadly. In addition, we know 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 our wedding ring on our fourth finger!
Despite the prevalence of this wedding ring finger tradition, especially throughout Western cultures, not everyone follows it to a T. “In Europe and India the tradition is to wear wedding rings on the ring finger of the right hand,” explains David Schoenfeld, founder of RING BEAR. “In South America, some cultures wear an engagement ring on their right hand and then switch it to their left hand once married.”
If anything, the variations on the wedding ring finger tradition show that even the most long-standing of wedding traditions don’t have to be hard and fast. Next, learn more about other traditions (besides just the ring finger), like where the wedding garter tradition came from and the origin of something old, new, borrowed, and blue.