The Meaning of Exchanging Wedding Rings

by Emma Rensch

The tradition of exchanging wedding rings goes back to ancient Egyptian times.

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Wedding rings symbolize lifelong commitment and love. These tokens are exchanged at weddings and are still used in modern ceremonies. They are steeped in tradition and symbolism that they have acquired over thousands or years. However, the meaning of the act of exchanging these tokens has changed in different centuries and cultures.

Composition

Most modern wedding rings are made from precious metals such as platinum, titanium, sterling silver, gold or white gold. While many wedding rings consist of a plain band, some are inlaid with diamonds. Both modern men and women usually wear wedding rings. However, grooms often wear a thicker band than brides, whose rings usually measure between 7 and 12 mm. A wedding band that is not ornate usually measures 4 mm wide.

History

Wedding rings originated in ancient Egypt. The tradition of exchanging rings during a marriage ceremony carried on to ancient Rome. However, Roman men did not place a ring on the finger of their wives to celebrate love; instead, the ring symbolized ownership as marriage placed the woman amongst the man’s possessions. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, men rarely wore wedding rings. However, today 60% of weddings incorporate a ring for the groom as well, according to the Wedding Services organization.

Gimmicks

Wedding rings were also used in ancient Asia. A popular style was called the puzzle ring, which not only symbolized a woman’s bond to her husband but also monitored fidelity. If a wife removed a puzzle ring, it would fall to pieces and could only be reconstructed by the craftsman who made it. Possessive husbands used this ring to monitor whether or not their wives had advertised availability in order to pursue infidelity.

Symbolism

The first Egyptian wedding rings were made from plant material and crafted into a circle to symbolize a never-ending connection between two people. Egyptians wore the ring on forth finger of the left hand, which, according to ancient Egyptian science, contained a vein that connected directly to the heart. The tradition of wearing the ring on this finger remains, although few people know where the significance of the ring finger comes from.

Contemporary Meaning

After thousands of years of evolving meaning, exchanging wedding rings today is less likely to be about a couple expressing ownership over one another or preventing infidelity. Instead, contemporary couples exchange wedding rings to indicate their commitment to love each other eternally and honor wedding vows. For most couples, the exchange of rings is purely symbolic; therefore, some contemporary marriages may not include wedding rings if the bride and groom do not feel they need an object to validate their love. However, wearing a wedding ring also has cultural significance, so a couple may choose to exchange rings so that they can wear a symbol that communicates their commitment with the rest of the world.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Emma Rensch earned her B.A. in writing for contemporary media from Scripps College in 2011. Currently, she lives and writes in San Diego.