I always wanted a pet name. As a freshwoman at Barnard College in fem lit, I dutifully wrote about how Ibsen’s Nora was made to feel insignificant by being called “chocolate chippy squirrel muffin,” so she busted out of that hellhole Dollhouse. I still longed to be endeared.
My quiet desire for a pet name persevered throughout my dating life. An ex used to occasionally call me “Honey Pie Pie,” but that was the closest I’d come. I once surreptitiously read a card that my friend A or “Bunny” received from her boyfriend. One intellectual person calling another intellectual person something so fuzzy compelled me. It was their sweet secret.
I was jealous of their relationship. Later he went on to cheat on her repeatedly with Thai prostitutes, so I was just jealous of the pet name. I wanted to be “Bunny,” and I coveted that title for years. In fact, when I first met my next boyfriend and learned he called people “Rabbit,” I thought I was just a hop away from home free.
Many Pesachs in the past, I went to my student L’s for a seder. In the kitchen I met L’s grandmother. I instantly liked her because she’d been a 4th grade teacher and had just returned from travels in New Zealand. “Schlückie it’s time for champagne,” she called to her husband. I was curious. Schlückie? What’s a schlück? I knew what a schmuck was. Trust me I knew. “Why Schlückie?” I asked. She smiled, charmed that I’d picked up on this bit of intimacy. It turns out they’d been calling each other that for two of my lifetimes “Schlückie” means a sip of wine in German. It was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. Fuck “Bunny.”
So why was “Schlückie” the best term of endearment ever? “Schlückie” is sexy because wine is sexy, the redder the better. Imagine Schlückie one and Schlückie two are sitting together in a dark wood low lights bar. She crosses and uncrosses her legs, takes a sip, and licks her lips. His eyes twinkle just for her as he takes his sip. The tacit agreement between their wine soaked lips? Soon, there will be Schlückie Nookie.
Enter boyfriend P. He called me “Peanut.” Now, some have disparaged the name, claiming I should have aimed for a higher order of nut such as “Cashew,” but I loved being “Peanut.” His “Peanut.” There were many variations of “Peanut,” such as “Peeny,” “Peiner Weiner,” “Pea Nut Nut,” “Peanutter,” “Peanutska,” and the most exuberant “PEEnutly.” I loved them all. I loved being “Peanut” because I loved being with P and I knew he loved being with me.
Next I was Sweet Pea. I wore a pea sized green pearl and gold necklace, which I told him to buy for me. Ex boyfriend N called me Sweet Pea when he was baby talking, which was a lot because his little pouty face was how he got what he wanted. He was always trying to get me to call him him Pingu. His wife had called him Pingu because he looked surprisingly similar to the claymation penguin. Weird. It wasn’t a very good relationship and I never think of myself as Sweet Pea anymore.
I asked some friends about pet names. Many were opposed to them entirely. L said, “thank goodness no.” KA said, “I’ve never been a nickname user; it just doesn’t come naturally to me. The one ex who gave me a pet name is a guy I cringe to think I ever went out with…he somehow started calling me baby bear, which occasionally morphed into bay + [other animal]. It was goofy, not my personality at all, and I did not like it.” In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora felt marginalized, minimized.
My friend M said, “the first one, with my ex, was one we made up, so I don’t really want it published. I kinda regretted it it because it opened up the door to baby talk, which was not sexy, eroded our attraction to each other and made for a more sibling-like dynamic.” Some friends “hated” pet names and others had been called generic ones such as Sweetie and Babe.
A few people thought these names were too personal to share including the new guy I’m dating. He did share that long ago he’s called a redheaded girlfriend Honeybear. Most guys have not been given a pet name and I’ve never given one. I’m thinking of calling him Pigwidgeon (Pigwidgie for short) from Harry Potter because he likes owls. I’m a nerd.
Is there something wrong with me for liking pet names? Mine have been adorable and made me feel small, cute and adored. I did some online research and there’s a lot out there telling me that pet names are sneaky ways of dominating women in a sexist society. My co worker calls his girlfriend gThang, Gabbers, or booger EATER. Love is so confusing sometimes.