Have you ever wanted to woo a lover with your prowess in languages? What better way than by giving them a very special name from another part of the world.
Around the world and across languages, people express their love in different, imaginative and sometimes – to our English speaking minds – strange ways.
You may be surprised to learn that some terms of endearment in English like “honey” or “sweetie-pie” don't translate well into other languages, or that some languages use creative terms than outshine our own in romance (at least in their own way).
Each year around Valentine's Day, especially now that I have someone special to celebrate it with, it's fun to share some terms of endearment and pet names to call your loved one, from many different languages and cultures around the world.
Irish: My Pulse, mo chuisle – and Other Body Part Endearments
In Irish we say mo chuisle, which means “my pulse”. This phrase was famously used in the movie Million Dollar Baby, and is the shortened form of a chuisle mo chroí or “pulse of my heart”. You can't get more romantic than telling your significant other that they're the life force keeping you on this earth. Pro tip: Don't watch Million Dollar Baby on Valentine's Day, great movie, but ultra depressing.
You can also use mo chroí (my heart), which is popular in other languages, like mi corazón in Spanish, and there are many other “lovely” body parts that people use to express their feelings. In English we might say sweet cheeks, angel eyes, or baby face. Angel eyes – ojos de Ángel – is also used in Spanish.
That said, there are some terms of endearment based on body parts, which, when you think about them, can seem a little odd, even in English. For instance, is baby face really appropriate for a gorgeous grown-up woman?
In Greek they say Μάτια μου (matia mou) or ματάκια μου (matakia mou) for “my little eyes”. This makes sense from an English perspective, since eyes are said to be the windows to the soul. Perhaps the most unusual body part pet name of all, to English speakers, is the Swedish sötnos, meaning “sweet nose”.
Russian: My Little Dove, moya golubushka – because Animals Make Great “Pet” Names
Humans (and their body parts) aren't the only ones who get attention in international terms of endearment. Animals also feature strongly.
Doves are a symbol of peace, so it makes sense that in Russian lovers call each other golubchik (masc) or golubushka (fem). You'll also find عيون غزال (ywn ghzal) for “eyes of a gazelle” in Arabic, since their eyes are said to be so hypnotic.
In Brazil a gato or gata (cat) is slang for a handsome or pretty person. Germans also use animal names with their lovers (we are talking pet names after all!). In German you'll find Häschen (little hare), Bärchen (little bear), Mäuschen (little mouse), Rehlein (little deer), and Spätzchen (little sparrow). Animal-related names are so common in German that you'll even see them used as the basis of swear words. My personal favourite pet-name, though, is the hybrid Mausbär (mousebear) which combines the cuteness of both a mouse and a bear for exponential snuggle-factor!
While it may seem weird to call a human a bird, hare, or mouse, the reasoning is of course that each of these are cute little things. A cute little bear is cuddly. You'll notice that the diminutive term “little” crops up a lot in terms of endearment (as -lein or -chen in German, and more to come in other languages).
The closest we have to this in English would probably be in British English, where long established partners – or family members – use my duck, duckie or hen as terms of endearment. And of course there's hunny bunny.
The French outdo everyone though by calling their special one ma puce or “my flea”. Similarly, in Hungarian you have Bogárkám or “my little bug.” You can't get much littler than that!
Persian: May a Mouse Eat You, moosh bokhoradet – Plus More Weird and Wonderful Names for Your Lover
Along the lines of very little things, in Persian you can be so cute that you're smaller than a mouse. So small that you can lovingly say moosh bokhoradet or “may a mouse eat you”.
And the Italians, always ready to one-up the French, will go even tinier than fleas and lovingly say microbino mio, “my little microbe”.
Somewhat more vague is the Flemish Mijn Bolleke, “my little round thing”. I'm sure it's romantic in its own way. There are other countries that emphasize roundness in their affections, like in Ecuador where you would call your girlfriend gorda “fat girl” and boyfriend gordo “fat boy”.
But can you imagine the meaning behind mijn poepie , a quirky Dutch term meaning “my little poopsie”? Or the (hopefully ironic) Polish brzydalu “ugly one”? Or even better, in Tibetan you can be nyingdu-la or “most honoured poison of my heart”!
In Thai, men over 40 may call their wives แม่ยอดชู้ (mae-yod-choo), which literally means “mother with the most paramours”, or แม่เนื้ออุ่น (mae-nua-oun), “mother with warm meat”. Um… thanks hubby, I guess…
For me, the cultural aspect of language is always fascinating, which is why I like that in Japanese, men call the woman they love tamago gata no kao or an “egg with eyes”. While this may not sound appealing, it's a great compliment, since in Japan having an oval, egg-shaped face is seen as very attractive.
In Spain a media naranja is your “other half”, but is more literally half of an orange! The Chinese can be much less romantic on the surface, with women calling their men a 笨蛋 (bèndàn) or “dumb egg“. It's said like an insult, but everyone knows that it's in jest.
Chinese: Diving Fish, Swooping Geese, 沉鱼落雁 – a Name with an Ancient Story
Historically, the Chinese have an absolutely lovely expression that merits an explanation:
沉鱼落雁 (chényú luòyàn), which literally means “diving fish, swooping geese” may sound nonsensical, but it's based on a story about the most beautiful woman in Chinese history, Xi Shi. According to legend, when she looked at fish in a pond, they were so dazzled by her beauty that they forgot to swim and gradually dived to the bottom. A different historical beauty, Wang Zhaojun was responsible for geese forgetting to flap their wings when they saw her, from being struck by her beauty. They would instead clumsily swoop to the ground.
Combining the two makes the object of your affection as beautiful as the two prettiest ladies in Chinese history. That's quite a feat!
So maybe try calling your loved one diving fish, swooping geese. Then you can explain the sweet context over something sweet.
English: Sweet Pea – and More Names from the Kitchen and Garden
In English we say sweet pea, peaches, pumpkin, muffin, cupcake, sugar and of course sweetie-pie, cutie-pie, honey-pie, pookie-pie… (what is it with English speaking Romeos and their pies?)
The food theme makes sense to me. Food is sustenance; it nourishes you and you can't live without it. Keeping this in mind makes the French pet name, mon petit chou or “my little cabbage” seem almost romantic. Indonesians say buah hatiku “fruit of my heart”, while Italians can be a fragolina (little strawberry), and Brazilians say chuchuzinho which is actually a rather bland “chayote squash” (but sounds similar to the French word for cabbage, so they rolled with it).
In Polish you can be a kruszynko or “breadcrumb” and in Taiwan you may hear lovers calling one another 小蜜糖 (xiǎo mì táng)- “little honey” or 小甜心 (xiǎo tiánxīn)- “little sugar”. Awww, it's all so sweet… literally!
Spanish: My little heaven, mi cielito – Inspirations from the Natural World
The wonders of the world around us are another big inspiration for the stuff love poems are made of. You'll hear mi cielito in Spanish, for “my little sky” or “my little heaven”, as well as mi sol (my sun). In Danish they have min guldklump, meaning “my gold nugget”. Meanwhile, “treasure” is skat in Danish and tesoro in Spanish. In English, we have my sunshine, my star, my flower, and my petal – although the last one is used mainly in the UK and Ireland.
German: Cute-Sweet, Schnuckiputzi – now we’re getting nauseating!
The amusing sounding German Schnuckiputzi is related to the adjectives “schnuckelig” and “putzig”, which both mean “cute” and “sweet”. Cariad is Welsh for “sweetheart” or “love”, and คนดี (kon-dee) is a heartfelt “good person” in Thai.
Spanish, known for it's intense latin lovin', has a whole host of cutesy love-terms, like mi vida “my life”, mi rey (my king), cariño (darling, or literally “affection”), amorcito (my little love), princesita (my little princess), dulzura (my sweet thing), querido (loved one), sirenita (little mermaid), and corazoncito little heart).
There's no shortage of ways to be nauseating in any language, so get to work on expressing your affection for your own drágám, (Hungarian for “precious”) in the many languages of the world.
What terms of endearment do you use with your loved ones? Let us know in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.