In early January, we invited New York Times readers to share their strangest pet names and the stories behind them. Within two weeks, we received nearly 1,300 submissions.
Among them were common themes: Many pet names began as a joke or a mispronunciation that then stuck. Others were inexplicably insulting. Food-related names and those mentioning excrement were especially popular. Go figure. (Maybe a linguist would like to study this?)
Below are 12 of our favorites. Feel free to leave your own weird terms of endearment in the comments.
I call my husband “Soup.” The nickname goes back to the first time we ever talked on the phone. In an attempt to fill an awkward silence and keep me on the line, Dan blurted out, “I like soup — all kinds of soup, really.” The absurdity and sweet earnestness of that confession made me laugh out loud, and won me over. “Soup” and I have been married for 15 years. — Daisy Howarth
For seven years, my ex and I called each other “babe.” When we split, that term of endearment wasn’t appropriate anymore, but using our first names felt too cold and distant. So, we settled on “F.K.A.,” an acronym for “formerly known as.” We’ve stayed on friendly terms and have used F.K.A. for three years. One of us will text, “Hey F.K.A., how’s your new job?” or on a phone call we’ll say, “It was great catching up, F.K.A. Send your family my best.” For us, “F.K.A.” is a way to pay tribute to the experience of seven shared years, while also honoring the boundaries of a relationship that changed shape. — Camille Farey
My mother told me (when I was 43) that my father dubbed pretoddling me “Termite” because I liked to gnaw my crib rails. When I cleared out their house in 2017, I ran my grown fingers over those tiny teeth marks in the windowsill and whispered “Goodbye” and “I love you” to Mom and Dad. — Coleen P. Kenny
My partner, Erin, and I are both nonbinary. The terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” never fit our relationship. While visiting California’s redwood forests, Erin came up with “burlfriend,” a goofy combination of boyfriend and girlfriend. Plus, burls on trees form under stress (pandemic relationship, anyone?) but can sprout new growth, forming spectacular wood patterns that go against the grain. — Mya Dosch
My husband started calling me “Rhome” right before we got engaged in May 2020, but I didn’t know why. For months, I thought he was calling me “Rome.” It was only when he set up our Wi-Fi password in our new apartment that I saw how it was spelled. When I asked him about it, he said it was short for “Rosie is my home.” — Rosie Ankhartz
When he was 7, my gaptoothed, ginger-haired grandson Gabe rushed into the kitchen where my husband and I were preparing a holiday dinner. When he reached for a cookie, I stopped him, telling him that he had to wait for dessert. “Just one cookie,” Gabe argued. “My other grandma always gives me cookies.”
With a smile, I countered, “That’s because your other grandma is the nice grandma; I am the wicked one.” We both started to laugh. From that day on, he’s called me “Wicked.”
Gabe is now a 28-year-old social worker in San Diego. My days now often begin with a text or an email from him saying, “Good morning, Wicked,” or “Wicked, how are you today?” Recently, he came to pick me up from the airport. As I walked outside the terminal searching for him, Gabe called out, “Wicked, I’m over here!” People looked at us strangely, with no idea that “wicked” is another word for love. — Linda Carroll
My partner Floyd told me for years his nickname back in Louisiana was “Fuzzy Love.” “Because,” he said, “my hair was fuzzy and I was born full of love.” His maternal grandmother gave him that name at birth in June 1950. I didn’t believe him, but when I visited his people in Jennings, La., everyone called him Fuzzy. One day we took a walk in the neighborhood and as we passed by a small house, someone opened the screen door and shouted, “Fuzzy! Fuzzy Love!” Fuzzy Love is bald now, but he’s still full of love. I call him Fuzzy, and so does almost everyone else. (Bonus: His father’s name was Curly and his big brother’s name is Curly Jr.) — Susan Parker
One of our terms of endearment began 20 years ago as a typo in an email. Typing hastily, she wrote “my vole,” rather than “my love.” (A vole is a small prairie rodent similar to a hamster.) This typo, with its transposed letters, became a term we have used ever since. It soon spawned a variant, “Vole of my file” (i.e., “Love of my life” with two more transposed letters), that we often use in correspondence. Later we learned that prairie voles are monogamous and also comfort one another when one is injured. Which makes this the perfect term of endearment for us. — Edward D. Sheffe and Andrea C. McKenzie
Married 31 years, I have always been a shopper, often buying gifts for friends and family, even though we had only one income, my husband’s (I was a stay-at-home mom). But that never stopped my buying and giving, and, unfortunately, I didn’t always let my husband know about it, leading to surprises and anger when he would see our checking account.
One day while we were sitting in the den, he got a call from the bank, saying they believed our account had been hacked because there were so many consecutive purchases on different websites. My husband said, “Yes, my account has been hacked, and I’m sitting next to the hacker right now.” The caller had a loud belly laugh over that, and my pet name was born. — Ann Brooks
When my cousin was very young he was so angry at my mother that he called her the meanest thing he could think of: “Aunt Diarrhea.” It was an immediate hit. Within our family, my mother was known, affectionately, as Aunt Diarrhea for the rest of her life. — Katherine A. Branson
I call my husband Snailhouse. This began in London during our first year together and I was jet-lagged and delirious. When I woke up briefly, he said, “You look very cozy, like a snail in its house.” Then I fell back to sleep. A few minutes later, I apparently started talking in my sleep and said in an annoyed tone, “You were supposed to say you’d be my Snailhouse.” He, awake, said, “OK, I will be.” I have called him Snailhouse ever since. Funny enough, 18 months later, on our wedding day, we found a snail shell in a container of berries we had bought. — Catherine Gurr
Sweet Muffin Breath
I came up with the moniker for my husband when we were first dating in 1996. Initially it was an ironic take on the silly things couples sometimes call each other. It had no basis in reality; I just couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. And then “sweet muffin breath” just stuck! — Sarah Gannholm