Meaning of Nose Rings in Historic and Modern Society

the meaning of nose rings in historic and modern societyNose rings have navigated their way into Western culture expeditiously. However, this fashionable piercing has a rich spiritual history and symbolic presence from the Middle East. This is no new age ritual either; nose rings have been a tradition for over 4,000 years. In fact, nose rings are the oldest and most universally pierced part of the body.

What’s more, there are a variety of ways to pierce the nose. From nostril piercings to septums, studs to hoops and everything in between, nose rings are a popular trend that’s only becoming more widely accepted with each generation. The metals used for nose rings has also changed over the years with Silver being a popular choice.

Like tattoos, what was once a foreign or radical body alteration is now a conventional fashion accessory. While nose rings represent a stigma in Western society, they’re a sacred tradition in Eastern cultures.

Let’s take a trip through history, east to west, to discover the many meaning of nose rings. Where did nose rings originate? How did nose rings get introduced into Western society? Are they a symbolic ritual or simply a fashionable accessory? The short answer is both.

Now, let’s explore the long answer.

The Roots of Nose Rings

There are several types of nose rings, each with its own unique history and origins. The main two categories of nose rings are nostril piercings and septum piercings.

Nostril Nose Ring Origin

The Middle East is the birthplace of the nostril ring, with the first record of nostril piercings tracing back 4,000 years. In the book of Genesis, Abraham’s servant gifts young Rebekah an array of jewelry as a marriage offering on behalf of her future husband, Isaac. Among the gifts and trinkets was a golden earring called a “Shanf” also known as a nose ring.

Later, the Mogul Empire from Central Asia made nostril piercings a popular and common practice in India in the 16th century. Perhaps our most familiar cultural image of nostril piercings is the Indian nose piercing featuring beautifully ornate chains falling decoratively across a women’s cheek and attaching to her ear.

The Meaning of Nose Rings in Historic and Modern Society

However, there are also simple variations of nose rings in the form of studs, bars and hoops.

Nose rings spread into Western culture in the 20th century, first popularized by the French and trickling into the U.S. with the 1960’s hippie movement. Hippie culture was once the nexus of contention and rebellion and as such, the nose ring in western culture adopted this negative light.

Septum Piercing Origin

The septum is the space of cartilage between the nostrils of the nose. For centuries, tribal cultures have pierced it as a meaningful ritual. Septum piercings were common tradition among Native American, Australian, Mayan, Aztec, Inca, Indian, Nepalese, Bengali and Tibetan aboriginal tribes.

The Meaning of Nose Rings in Historic and Modern Society

Tribal people and warriors used a spectrum of septum jewelry including bone, wood, tusks, gold and jade. Each tribe’s interpretation of this powerful piercing differs, along with the materials used for septum jewelry. Septum piercings represent beauty, milestones, manhood, warrior strength, wealth, fertility, brain cognition and more.

The Meaning of Nose Rings in Historic and Modern Society

The Many Meanings of Nose Rings

Because nose rings are widespread and span cultures worldwide, there are many meanings and interpretations accompanying them. Let’s look at some of the most popular nose ring meanings.

Wealth, Status and Prestige

Does size matter? Is more better? The debate continues. In the case of nose ring jewelry, bigger is better. Why? Well, the size of the nose ring jewelry is a direct representation of wealth and status. Regarding nose ring tradition: the bigger the nose ring, the more wealthy a man or woman is.


Nose rings are intimately linked to several interpretations of marriage. For example, remember how Abraham gifted his son Isaac’s future wife a golden earring? Well, it was for good reason. In fact, men gift their future wives nose rings as financial security. Essentially, if a woman ends up widowed or divorced, the nose ring is a valuable asset she can sell and ultimately, live on.

Nose rings are sometimes included in a marriage dowry in Middle Eastern and African cultures. Also, in Asian culture, septum piercings are a declaration that a woman is marriageable.


Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing science known as “The Science of Life.” In this holistic theory it is believed that a woman’s left nostril is connected to the reproductive organs. According to Ayurveda theory, piercing the left nostril eases childbirth, relieves menstrual cramps, and promotes fertility and reproductive health.

Defiance and Rebellion

While nose ring piercings are a spiritual or sacred tradition among Eastern cultures, the emergence in Western cultures had the opposite effect. When nose rings permeated western culture in the 1960’s, it was generally perceived as an unsightly body modification. This stigma perpetuated in the 80’s with punk and Gothic circles using nose rings as a rebellious stance against convention and norms.

Despite its historic and biblical presence, modern cultures initially found the piercing repulsive and even offensive. However, as with many taboo topics, time has a way of changing things.

Nose Rings in the Modern Era

While some communities in western society cling to their traditional aversion to nose piercings, they’ve become quite popular articles of fashion. Why? Celebrities and prominent figures have normalized nose piercings. Wearing a nose ring is no longer as strictly tied to rebellious culture and is even becoming more widely accepted in the workplace.

While nose rings in the modern era have become more conventional, there still exists professional or corporate environments that prohibit body art or modification of any kind.

However, in the last 70 years nose rings have transformed from a stigmatized body alteration to a mainstream fashion accessory. If this trend continues, the forecast for nose rings looks like they’ll become as common as ear piercings.

Nose rings are a symbolic historic ritual and a modern fashion accessory. In fact, many of the ancient traditions and beliefs surrounding nose rings are still practised today.

The appeal of nose rings is that there are many ways to wear them including studs, hoops, septum piercings and bars. Furthermore, it’s a time-honored expression of personal style and beliefs. If you’re interested in body piercings, a nose ring is a great way to experiment without pushing the bounds of convention.

Bottom line: Nose rings are a sacred ancient ritual, a popular fashion accessory and here to stay.

Was this article helpful?

Search the Fashion Encyclopedia

Buying Jewelry

Buying Jewelry

Everything you need to know about Jewelry
98 articles
Jewelry How To's

Jewelry How To's

Ever wondered how to...
22 articles
Trending Jewelry News

Trending Jewelry News

What's new in the world of all things sparkly
43 articles