Lovers and partners frequently create pet names for one another as part of their relationship. These nicknames are used to show affection and endearment and also provide a look into the unique and intimate connection that can be co-created between two (or more) people.
Generally, pet names are shared privately and carry a special meaning to the individuals using them. Pet names take time to evolve and carry on even if the names themselves change over time. Pet names tell a partner that they are significant enough for the generation of customized language to exist as part of their relationship. At times, nicknames are shortened and reflect that partners are at a level of bonding and attunement that does not require overt explanation.
A nickname or diminutive form of a name speaks to the positive mental representations partners and significant others create with one another. Access to use such names is only granted to in-group members, indicating that this aspect of one’s self is reserved for someone with whom they feel less inhibited, more lighthearted and vulnerable.
Endearing names also provide a glimpse into the nature of someone’s relationship constellation. Many partners use a variation of the term ‘baby’ in their lexicon, which may reflect an unconscious wish for caretaking and the allowance to behave in a child-like manner. Partners with mutual nicknames for one another demonstrate a merging in certain aspects of their identities.
During intimate moments, names may be used playfully and reflect a projected sense of self. There is shared power in having a partner use a pretend name with their significant other, while their partner simultaneously complies in taking on the allotted role. Names reflect expectations and responses to individuals with whom attachments are developed. Pet names and nicknames substitute official names and model how individuals allow others to relate to them, even temporarily.
When partners are in conflict, they generally revert to using their given or official names. Partners do so for self-protection, as a way of psychologically distancing themselves and clueing in their paramour that the current state of their relationship is not inviting of admiration and warmth. Partners accustomed to hearing pet names immediately recognize such signal, with the stricter and more authoritative inclination of their given name. It is interesting to note that partners in certain coupleships will make attempts at repairing tension by slowly reintegrating their love’s nickname, making an implicit request to return to their previous state of closeness and intimacy.
Source: Drake, D. (1957). On Pet Names. American Imago, 14 (1), 41-43.