With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I got to thinking about terms of endearment and about the world of interpersonal language that romantic partners develop just for themselves. For this study students at Ohio University went out and delivered the survey to married people. Nonetheless, Schwartz says she thinks pet names are important as shorthand for admiration and affection.
You may be familiar with another group of nicknames that are reserved only for certain people: families. Gesselman acknowledges that while her study looked at the average among couples, there could be individual differences unaccounted for. According to Arana, couples can improve their sex lives by dropping pet names, and she’s seen many examples of this.
There’s also the embarrassment factor, of course, if one person lets the nickname slip in front of others (I have been chided for accidentally doing this too loudly on occasion). In the digital age, when hardly anything is private anymore, couples may value their pet names all the more.

Whether they sound to others like gibberish or the names of Muppets, it doesn’t matter. Even Arana, after writing a book advising against silly pet names, isn’t totally immune to terms of endearment from her romantic partner. Welcome to the Scientific American Blog Network, a forum for a diverse and independent set of voices to share news and opinions and discuss issues related to science.
My parents have their own nicknames for me and my brother, and we have names for them too that we don’t use in public. But this speech is negatively related to relationship length, so couples that have been together for years use it less. Bruess in particular cautions against judging a couple based on their pet names, which emerge and exist in their own unique relationship. This is especially bad if you have a pet name that would sound infantilizing or downright ridiculous to others. I will embrace the nicknames given to me as long as they hold positive meaning, and I’ll invoke boyfriend-pet-names to reinforce emotional connection, make questions sound sweeter and break the ice when things are tense.

Interestingly, the study did not use data from couples married for more than five years who had no children (there were only two examples). The names have resulted in a few awkward car rides with friends over the years, but otherwise I do see it as a largely positive extension of the bonds between us. Participants in this study did represent a variety of age groups (18 to more than 60 years old), and study authors did not control for sexual orientation or marital status. But from what has been studied, and from the experience of several experts, it seems nicknames can be a good thing for a relationship – if both partners are into it. So, while this study established a basis for looking at the question, it used a small sample size and didn’t represent the full spectrum of romantic relationships.

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