By Ananya Bhardwaj
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, one cannot help but encounter almost every nickname imaginable being tossed in everyday sentences by couples in love. These terms of endearment are a form of interpersonal language that romantic partners develop just for themselves. The questions arise: Is there any science behind using pet names? Is it a mark of a healthy relationship, or an unhealthy one? In our digital age, are these nicknames any longer necessary? Also, are couples who give each other names more likely to stay together?
Pet names and their origin
There are origins to the use of pet names used in different types of relationships. Relationships are practically a culture in themselves, and rituals like nicknames and similar private languages and mannerisms reinforce them. Although they play a healthy role in ordinary times, terms of endearment are useful whenever conflicts arise. They allow a natural recourse to playfulness and humor whenever things become rough in relationships. The evidence relating to the healthiness of a relationship and the use of endearments that’s out there is largely based on a random bunch of surveys, which do not truly capture an entirely representative sample of forms of relationships and love.
It does not seem like anyone has made any distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual couples with regard to the use of pet names—maybe because there may not be any difference at all—or compared how pet names are used in the United States as compared to other countries. However, from what has been studied, and from the opinion of several experts, it seems that nicknames can be a good thing for a relationship—but only if both partners are into it.
Tracing the origins of famous nicknames
If the object of our affection is to be pleased with the term of address we use, there has to be a shared sense of enjoyment; and judging by the oft-preferred terms, very few areas of the language really qualify. Taste or food items seem to be the dominant area. It is also observed that the eatables are adapted in terms of address: Cinnamon, pudding, pumpkin, sugar, and so on. These are a few very commonly used instances.
The word sweetheart was first used in 1290. This combination of sweet (“lovely, charming, delightful“) and heart (as the seat of the emotions) was originally written as two words, a practice that continued into the seventeenth century. It is traditionally used both for someone with whom one is in love and more generally for anyone with developed ironic or contemptuous slang uses, as seen in Frank Parrish’s novel, Fire in the Barley (1977): “Try harder, sweetheart, or I’ll plug you in the guts.”
“Sugar” and “darling”
There has been a distinct evolution in the meaning of certain words. “Old thing”, first used in 1625, is an expression that has ameliorated with age. It was originally an expression of contempt or reproach targetted at anyone who was literally old, often found with demeaning adjectives (such as “ugly old thing,” 1717). However, in the nineteenth century, we see it used with warm-hearted adjectives (especially as “dear old thing,” 1852), and eventually, on its own as an affectionate form of address to a person of any age.
Sticking with the fact that sugar is recorded in English from the thirteenth century, and often used figuratively and proverbially since then, it is a bit of a surprise that the fashion to use the word as a term of address seems to be not much older than the 1930s. Among the more popular compound words since then are sugar-babe and sugar-pie, but a wide range of possibilities exists. A 2001 song by Woody Guthrie begins: “Tippy tap toe, my little sugar plum”, and a song by popular band Maroon 5 even has the title “Sugar”.
“Darling” is one of those rare words of endearment that crosses different boundaries. It has been used traditionally by everyone ranging from the taxi cab driver talking to a pedestrian to the upper classes. Interestingly, a rephrasing of the word ‘dear’, coming from the old English word of ‘deorling’, took the shape of ‘deyrling’ over the sixteenth century and then becoming ‘darling’ eventually.
Pervasiveness of nicknames
As can be seen in a very surprising trend, rather than these private words and phrases dying off over time, they end up becoming so ingrained in a relationship that long-term married couples may stop acknowledging them as special. It eventually becomes a part of the fabric of their relationship and ends up being taken for granted.
Names like honey, baby, babe, sweetheart, and so on represent a special intimacy that is reserved for one’s significant other. Most couples reveal that they are shocked or know something is wrong in the relationship when a partner calls them by their actual name and not their nickname. In the digital age, when barely anything is private, couples often value their pet names for the other all the more. It has been put as a hypothetical situation that couples respect, and crave the privacy of their nicknames and idioms, even more so today because so many other aspects of their lives have become public.
Featured Image Source: Pexels