You wear a ring on a specific finger depending on the kind of ring and the country or culture in which you live. In most countries in the West it is normal to wear a wedding or engagement ring on the ring finger of the left hand. This tradition arose because legend had it that this finger contained a vein – the vena amoris – that led directly to the heart. No such vein of course exists, except perhaps metaphorically. There is also a medieval tradition that each finger represents a different relationship; the thumbs your parents, the index finger your siblings, the middle finger yourself, the fourth finger your spouse and your little finger your children. One ageless story for why you wear your wedding ring describes as follows:
Open the palm of your hands face-to-face. Bend your middle fingers and hold them together back-to-back. Hold the remaining fingers tip-to-tip and try to separate your thumbs. They will open wide because your parents will not live with you for the rest of your life. Then try separating your little fingers. They will open apart because your children will grow up and leave you. Try moving your index fingers and they will move apart too just as your brothers and sisters will eventually live their own lives and you will see less of them. Now try moving your fourth fingers – your ring fingers – apart, and you will find they are impossible to separate just as husband and wife are bound together for eternity.
In a tradition starting with the Romans, and possibly before, we normally wear an engagement ring on the same finger as the wedding ring for the exact same reason. Often the wedding ring is a plain band, which expresses a holy union, whereas the engagement ring is more usually decorated with precious stones as made famous with the engagement of Princess Katherine. Diamonds are a symbol of eternal love which arises because of their enduring quality not the advertising slogan which came later.
In some Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden and Denmark – as well as the Greek Orthodox Church, the wedding ring finger of the right hand bears the ring. Many Swedish women wear a third ring on their ring finger, in this case on their right hand, as a symbol of motherhood and fertility. In some Jewish traditions the wedding ring transfers from the index finger during the ceremony and onto the ring finger after; in Greece the left hand during the service and then later slipped to the right.
Chinese people tend not to wear wedding rings though when they do it is on their middle fingers. The reason is that according to the principles of yin-yang the middle finger represents the heart.
Following a tradition begun by Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century a gold snake ring may be worn on the ring finger opposite the wedding ring as a symbol of good luck and fertility.
The quality and extravagant expense of the stones is part of the tradition that marriage is economic rather than about romance and love. The bride receives payment of goods during the marriage ceremony. The German wedding vows once stated “‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between the two of us, on condition your father gives with your marriage 1,000 Deutschmarks.” This mercenary clause in the holy vows is no longer used. Today we wear rings for their symbolic importance and on which finger we wear them is part of this age-long tradition.