Thursday, November 20, 2008

Terms of Endearment

I was chatting with a writer friend the other day and she needed a term of endearment for one of her characters to call another. You know, like "honey" or "baby" or "sweetheart." I knew these two characters and tried to think about what they would call each other and I realized just how much the terms of endearment can say about a couple!

This got me thinking. JP has several terms he uses with me (none of which I shall mention here :) and they're all names that have developed and changed over the course of our relationship. There are different names (endearing names) he calls me when I'm acting grouchy, when he's teasing, when we're on the phone and when I refuse to get up in the morning on a weekday (which are all variations on the same theme). These terms are somewhat born of our relationship, of the fact that we've spent five (FIVE!!) years together. To a certain extent, they're like a secret language between the two of us -- the quirks that make our relationship different from others.

And so coming up with terms of endearment for characters isn't as easy as saying "would he call her 'love' or 'baby' or 'snookums'?" You have to think about the course of their relationship, how they interact with each other on a daily basis. You have to understand where they come from.

For example, my mom and step-father call each other "mi amor" ("my love" in Spanish). They both grew up on banana plantations in Latin America -- it's their shared history (and what brought them together later in life) and so by using a Spanish endearment, they're paying tribute to that. That little detail can tell you a lot about their relationship.

Another example, I call one of my sisters "Yay." Her actual name is Jenny and there's this whole long convoluted story behind how I came up with that name (which is short for "yay-yay"). But still, I call her Yay or Yay-Yay -- it's a term I've used for decades. Go figure!

Trying to brainstorm with my friend, it was just so surprising to realize not only how hard it is to come up with a good term of endearment, but how much doing so can reflect on the characters' relationship and shared history. It really is a small detail that can tell you so much!

What do you think? Do you have a term of endearment that you use that shows something unique about your relationship?


Anonymous said...

I call my boyfriend 'Champu', which actually means a geek, the one with tacky clothes, hair plastered with oil and stuff. You get the point.

Well, he was second in his college in his MBA exams. So he is a geek. But he doesn't look like one. the other day after he removed his helmet his hair looked kind of stuck to his scalp. Since then I call him 'Champu'. He doesn't mind one bit. He says it's the way and the intention and the feelings with which you say it. He will be okay with scoundrel too, if i say it lovingly :)
He is funny that wayz...

Kimberly Derting said...

So after fifteen years together, what does it say that I call my husband an idiot (usually while I'm laughing)??? Is that what it's come to, I can't think of anything "endearing" anymore? Pretty soon we'll just be that couple in Denny's, eating the Early Bird Special, who don't say a word to each other...*sigh*

Anonymous said...

I call my sweetheart "jaan".
People think I'm calling him John.
Jaan actually means "my heart or my soul" i only used it when we got VERY serius.

Jill Wheeler said...

My ex called me "booty" or "boots." It was usually in a playful way, but I can think of some very painful times when he used that term (um, like when we were breaking up) that made the word bittersweet.

My husband calls me "babe." In fact, that's what he calls me all the time. When he calls me "Jill," I know he's unhappy about something.

Hmm. An interesting thing to ponder.