Origins of Finger Names and How Parents Can Teach Them to Their Kids

Finger name songs are one of the many ways that children can learn the names of their fingers. And, learning the names of the fingers may be more important than what you thought.

What are the names of each finger on the human hand? The names of each finger on the human hand are the thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. Their names are derived from different cultures, languages, and settings – mainly Latin, Dutch, Ancient Egypt, and from medical terminology.

In this article, we’ll explore the various names for each of the fingers on the human hand, interesting facts about each of the fingers, why kids should learn finger names, and the various methods you can use to teach children the names of their fingers. 

Finger Names on the Human Hand

The names of our fingers are steeped in a long history of words, language, and culture. The names of each finger on the human hand and their origins are as follows:

Thumb

The word “thumb” has old roots, dating back to before the 12th century. It originated from Middle and Old English variations “thoumbe” and “thuma,” respectively that have the same meaning as the modern word thumb.

The word is also similar to the Old High German word “thumo” with the same meaning. The Latin word “tumere” meant to swell, and may have been the beginnings of the name “thumb,” as it seems to refer to the fact that the thumb is often thicker than the other fingers (source).

In medical terminology, the thumb is known as the “pollex.” This word also comes from Latin, and originates from the word “pollic” which referred to both the thumb and the big toe. Pollex is a newer term that was first used in 1702 (source).

Index Finger

The index finger has the most names of all the fingers. It’s also referred to as the pointer finger or the forefinger. Perhaps this is because it’s one of our most useful fingers. The name “index” comes from the Latin word indico, which means to point out (source). The pointer finger is an easy to understand variation on the index finger with the same meaning.  

Other names for the index finger such as forefinger also have fairly straight forward origins. The word “fore” can mean towards the front (source). So, the word forefinger refers to the fact that it is the first finger on the hand, of course, if you don’t count the thumb. 

Middle Finger

The name of this finger is really quite easy to understand because the meaning is literal. The middle finger is in the center of the hand and is flanked by two fingers on either side.

Furthermore, the medical term for this finger is the “digitus medius manus” which also refers to the fact that the finger is in the middle or “medius” of the hand (source). Sometimes, this finger may be referred to as the tall finger.

Ring Finger

This finger got its name because married people typically wear their wedding ring on this finger. The Ancient Egyptians may have been the first people to wear wedding rings, according to archaeological findings on hieroglyphs.

But, the ring finger really earned its name in Ancient Roman and Greek times. During these times, people believed that the fourth finger of the left hand had a vein that led straight to the heart. This vein was known as the vena amoris, which means “vein of love.”

While in reality, this vein doesn’t actually exist, it has influenced people to wear their weddings on this finger to this day, also giving the fourth finger its name, the ring finger (source).

Pinky

The smallest finger on the hand, the pinky, gets its origins from the Scottish and the Dutch word “pink” which means little finger. However, how the word pink grew to mean little finger had help from the Scots.

Originally, the term pinck ooghen in Dutch referred to how an eye looks when infected by pink eye and the eye is half shut. Eventually, through uses in Scottish and Dutch, this idea of a smaller, squinting eye turned into small in general and finally meant the smallest finger.

The origins of this word can be traced in the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language which was written in 1808 (source).

Other Facts Related to Finger Names

Now that you know the names of the fingers and their origins, you might wonder about other facts and terminology related to the hand. Below, we’ll answer all of your burning questions about other details related to the finger names:

The Name of the Skin Between Your Fingers

Technically known as interdigital folds, the little bit of extra skin between your fingers is almost web-like. (source) The name of the skin between the thumb and index finger shares the same name, interdigital fold, although it is a bit longer and larger than the folds between other fingers. 

The Most Sensitive Finger

Many people are curious about which finger is the most sensitive. While there have been plenty of studies about how sensitive our hands are, there isn’t a specific ruling about which finger is the most sensitive.

However, what is true is that the sensitivity of different parts of your hand depend somewhat on how you’re holding your hand. You have different sensitivity if your hand is in a fist, for example than if it is held flat. 

Fingertips, in general, are more sensitive than other areas of the hand such as the back of your hand. This is because nerve receptors are closer together on fingertips than they are on the back of the hand.

Essentially, this means that when performing a needlepoint testing, we can sense that there are two tips of a needle poking us on our fingertips, but might sense only one needlepoint when the two tips poke the back of our hand even though the needle points are the same distance apart. 

It’s also interesting to note that there are several different kinds of nerve endings that help us sense things in our fingertips. These different nerves serve a variety of purposes, from sensing temperature to light touch, pain, texture, and finger positioning information, we have lots of nerves in our fingers (source)!

One research finding may offer evidence that your pinky is probably your most sensitive finger. That’s because a study showed that the smaller a person’s fingers are, the more sensitive they are (source)!

Benefits of Teaching Children the Names of Their Fingers

Our hands and fingers are amazing. The sensitivity of our fingertips, muscles, and movement in our hands, and our opposable thumbs make our hands very useful tools. From birth, babies begin to marvel at their hands as they wave them in front of their faces. Then, slowly, children are able to dominate their fingers and hands, mastering their finger’s movements and achieving hand-eye-coordination as they grow. 

Though we rarely give the names of our fingers a second thought, for children, learning the names of their fingers can be very beneficial. From a very early age in babyhood, you can start working with your child to teach them the names of their fingers. Below, learn what children can gain from learning their finger names.  

Fine Motor Skills and Dexterity

When babies are born, they can’t control their hands at all. They don’t even know that their hands are attached to their bodies. So, it takes some work for them to be able to move their fingers independently and even remotely control their movements.

Because young children are so quick to mimic adults, teaching your child their finger names while showing them each finger can inspire them to do the same. As they copy your movements and attempt to isolate the movements of each finger, they are building their fine motor skills and the dexterity in their hands. 

Vocabulary

When you name the fingers, you’re teaching your child new vocabulary words. This is particularly true when you use songs and rhymes to teach the finger names. Listening to the words over and over again, and eventually singing along engrains new words into their brains. (source)

Social Skills

It turns out that many fingerplays, songs, and rhymes also help kids learn how to interact socially. This is partially because engaging in teaching finger names is a social experience between the parent or caregiver and the child. In addition, many of the finger name songs also teach basic courtesy phrases like “How do you do?”. (source)

Math Skills

You might be surprised to learn that knowing finger names can later contribute to math skills later on. Specifically, in a study, students who had more awareness about their fingers, such as correctly naming the fingers without looking at them showed better numerical performance than those who showed less finger gnosis skills.

Then, researchers provided training in finger differentiation to some children. These children boosted their number skills thanks to this training! So, children who have been specifically taught and coached in learning finger names and finger differentiation have better finger gnosis than those who don’t and finger gnosis can help improve math skills. (source)

The link between finger gnosis and numerical abilities may be related to the fact that from a young age, we often count on our fingers. The ability to effectively use this practical tool – our hands – can make acquiring number sense easier. 

As you can see, there are many benefits, some that you might not have expected, that your child can gain from learning the names of their fingers. All that time spent singing “Daddy finger” does pay off! So, it’s good for parents and caregivers to engage in finger name learning activities and help their kids develop this knowledge. 

How to Teach Children the Names of Their Fingers

Are you looking for more ways that you can work with your child on learning their finger names? There are plenty of fun ways that you can help your child take advantage of the many benefits of practicing finger names

Songs

All of the finger name songs are great for teaching finger names. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Daddy Finger
  • Where is thumbkin?
  • Tommy Thumb

The finger family names song names each of the fingers as a member of the family, including “Daddy finger, Mommy finger, Brother finger, Sister finger, and Baby finger.” In this rhyme, the fingers are named starting from the thumb and moving to the pinky finger. 

Another popular finger song is “Where is thumbkin?” This song uses more traditional finger names, but variations refer to the middle finger as “tall man” or the pinky as “little man” (source). Yet another variation names each of the fingers with people names such as “Tommy Thumb,” “Peter Pointer,” “Toby Tall,” and more (source). 

These are all easily found on videos online that you can use to learn the lyrics and melody. However, ideally, rather than plopping your child in front of a screen, you’ll sing the songs to your child. Eventually, your child will join in and also sing and perform the motions.

The key to gaining the many benefits listed above is to interact directly with your little one. Make lots of eye contact, show the motions clearly with your hands, smile, and encourage your kid to do the motions and sing the words with you.

Other songs can also help develop finger awareness and fine motor skills. Just a few popular examples are:

  • 1,2,3,4,5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive
  • The Eensy Weensy Spider
  • Twinkle Twinkle

There are even some board books available to go along with these songs that you can find online or at your local bookstore. 

Rhymes

In addition to the popular nursery rhyme songs, there are plenty of other rhymes that can help create finger awareness. For example:

  • This Little Piggy
  • Fingers Up and Fingers Down
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • I Have Two Eyes

Use these rhymes to encourage your child to move their fingers and hands in different ways, boosting their fine motor skills, vocabulary, and general finger gnosis skills. 

You can access a large list of rhymes and games provided by the US Cooperative Extension System run by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. On the site, hundreds of lyrics and instructions for teaching fingerplays, rhymes, and songs are available (source).

Games

You can also play some finger games once your child reaches later toddlerhood. For example, have your child place their hands out in front of them. Then, grab one of their fingers gently. Ask your child the name of the finger you’ve grabbed. Invite them to do the same with you! Then, make it harder by having your child put their hands behind their back to play. This way, they’ll practice naming their fingers without seeing them. 

Final Thoughts

Finger names offer an important opportunity for teaching children. The names may be thousands of years old, but, especially for children, they are still relevant today.

So, look up some new finger play songs to teach your child and sing the old favorites with newfound enthusiasm! Now, when your child asks you to sing “Daddy finger” with you for the 100th time, you’ll find comfort in knowing exactly why it’s good for her. 

Rachel Peachey

Rachel Peachey is a contributing writer at Strategies for Parents. She is an expert in Montessori education and parenting. In addition to writing for Strategies for Parents, Rachel has written a series of books focusing on practical ways parents and teachers can use the Montessori method. You can find her work on her blog and website, Volcano Mama. Rachel taught at an international bilingual Montessori school in Guatemala at both the preschool and lower elementary school levels. In addition, she uses the Montessori method at home with her 3 children. She completed her Montessori training through NAMC in 2013. In her free time, Rachel loves spending time with her family, baking, reading, and crafting.

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In this article, we’ll explore the various names for each of the fingers on the human hand, interesting facts about each of the fingers, why kids should learn finger names, and the various methods you can use to teach children the names of their fingers.