Rings for the Finger
What do they all mean?
People like rings. They add to our style and just look good in general. Many people, however, assign meaning not only to the ring itself, but also to the finger on which the ring rests. The most common association is that of the ring finger (to no surprise), which is often associated with love, eternity, and promise. We don't pay much more thought to the other fingers, but they exist, and most have some history or another. So let's dive into the history of the ring and the finger!
Despite the fact that many use the pinky ring for the famous pinky swear, we do not use the pinky ring to symbolize a promise, well, with an exception, but we will get to that. Traditionally, signet rings are worn on the pinky. This dates back even to Roman times, though it's probably older than them. This still occurs in modern times, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was known to wear his signet ring on his left pinky finger. In a way, this tradition is as timeless as wearing an engagement or wedding ring on your ring finger. However, interestingly, at different times in different cultures, it was expected for men to wear all their rings on one finger. Pliny the Elder details this, but also admits that it seems to have changed over time. This tradition came back much later, during the Victorian era, but, once again, died out not long after. This did mean that sometimes men would wear their wedding ring on their pinky finger. Ultimately, it was almost exclusively a thing that men would do. Very few women would wear a ring on their pinky finger. The exception to this is that a Victorian Woman may do so to say that they were not interested in pursuing marriage. This, too, has since become unpopular.
One of the more interesting, but far less noble, uses of a pinky ring is that to make it clear that you were in the Mafia! Chances are the average person would not be accused of it, of course, and obviously Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn't a mobster. Jokes aside, there does not seem to be much evidence to support this. The most mobsters we'll see wear it are on the screen through popular TV shows or movies. Al Capone seemingly wore a signet ring on his pinky finger. However, this was evidently a fashionable thing to do even if you weren't a mobster. It was a way to show wealth. Plenty of wealthy upper class Americans would likely have worn a flashy pinky ring. So the association isn't exclusive, that's for sure. It was most certainly blown up due to media.
The finger so important for rings that, well, the name speaks for itself. The main reason for this stems from an incredibly ancient belief that there was a vein that went from the left hand's ring finger straight to the heart. So, naturally, it made sense for lovers to wear rings on their left ring finger. This was most prominent in Europe, but originated in Egypt. Its popularity rose from the expansion of the Roman Empire, as ancient Romans also held this belief. From these legends, the ring finger remained as the popular choice for most individuals in the West, and then in North and South America. This was not always the case, as occasionally people would swap the wedding ring to another finger, like the pinky, for example. But largely, most Europeans and Americans wear the wedding ring on their left ring finger or right ring finger. One other possible explanation is that the ring finger is fairly safe. The thumb and index finger are used way too much, and wearing a middle finger ring could hinder the index finger. This also explains why the pinky was another common choice.
The history does not go much deeper than that. It really does derive from these ancient legends and has simply become cultural tradition. It has wavered significantly, and today you can pretty much wear your wedding ring or engagement ring on any finger on any hand.
The middle finger does not have much symbolism related to it. In the past, there was quite a great deal of negative superstition or belief. Some thought it was the foolish finger. The Hindus thought it could attract scorpion attacks. And the Greeks and Romans simply thought it was not worth decorating. The Britons, however, did wear rings on the middle finger. However, now such concepts have passed largely passed. Some choose to wear a ring on the middle finger because it doesn't carry some sort of special meaning or display some sort of status. However, as previously indicated, because it can obstruct the index finger, people usually don't wear it on their dominant hand. So, if you have a cool ring you just want to show off, it's a common choice for placement.
Some people feel that there is a bit of a balance associated with wearing a ring on your middle finger. It feels comfortable and not out of place at all. But some feel that it obstructs index finger movement.
Despite what we have said about rings potentially obstructing the index finger, people would wear rings on it to convey status. It could vary from family crests, symbols, class rings, or signets (usually for priests). A more important occasion was actually marriage. Jewish marriages typically had the fiancée place the wedding ring on her right index finger.
It is prominent, but not as prominent as the middle finger. Still, it does get used more than the middle. So, many different groups of people would still designate the fore-finger as an option for displaying status. This is somewhat still reflected today, as it is a common choice for something like a class ring. It may be annoying for people who tend to do a lot of writing, however.
Despite how much we use the thumb, it has been a surprisingly common choice for where a ring should rest. Aside from its use in archery, it was supposedly a way to display wealth. This could be from the fact that the thumb is the largest finger. Aside from this, it is also a great way to display something more suited to your personal taste. Sometimes thumb rings would be used in prayers, but there is not much else to the story. You can give a thumbs up and show off the stylish ring, though!
The Wrap Up
There are a lot of rings and quite a few different places for you to wear them. Some have a special meaning. Others, well, simply do not. Even though some of these meanings are centuries old, they are surprisingly not as rooted into our culture as one might be led to believe. The wedding ring on the ring finger is not set in stone as the Victorians have shown us. These days, plenty of people are willing to challenge the status quo or try something new. Maybe that creativity will be rewarded with setting a new trend. Only time and ingenuity will tell!
Rings for the Finger, by George Frederick Kunz
Natural History, by Pliny the Elder. Book XXXIII, Chapter 6.