Man putting a ring on a woman's finger
Exchanging rings Photo: Thinkstock

It is believed that the ancient Greeks were the first to wear a wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand, from the romantic notion that a ‘vein of love’ ran from there to the heart. Until the 1700s in England, a wedding ring could be worn on any finger, and even the thumb. Thereafter, the left-hand ring finger became traditional.

The 16th-century Dutch author Levinus Lemnius maintained that a swooning woman could be revived by rubbing this finger to refresh ‘the fountain of life unto which this finger is joined’. Physicians also used this one to stir their potions. The USA, France, Sweden, Brazil and many other countries follow the left-hand custom.

The Romans favoured the ring finger of the right hand because they considered the left unlucky (the Latin for ‘left’ is sinister which also means ‘unfavourable’). This custom (though not belief) continues today in many countries, including India, Spain, Germany and Russia. In some, such as Belgium, the hand of choice even varies from region to region.

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