Pet Names: Cute or Condescending?


If it sounds sticky, sweet, and delicious, or like something you might call your cat, don’t use it on your girl. (Savannah Schechter/The Observer)

“Honey, baby, sweetheart, let me buy you a drink.” Your first instinct is that this guy is a jerk. Maybe you let him buy you that drink, and maybe you walk away. Even if you take that 12 dollar concoction, you already know that you’re not going to talk to this guy again, never mind go home with him tonight. All because he called you “baby.”

Scenario two: your group of best girl friends is getting together for dinner. “Hey beautiful,” is the greeting when you finally arrive. “Honey, you need a night out, you work too hard!” Women call each other by these pet names all the time, and it is seen as harmless. Suddenly the words slip out of a heterosexual male’s mouth and he turns into a sleazy dirtbag, and you’re immediately turned off. Men who use pet names, especially toward women that they don’t even know, walk a thin line between being cute, creepy, and downright rude and condescending.

Personally, I don’t see the cute side of these “terms of endearment.” I use the word “endearment” loosely, because in all honesty, I see nothing endearing about being compared to a dessert or an infant. But hey, that’s just me. Maybe I just have too much ego or too much pride. Either way, it is not okay with me to be called such. I was given a name at birth for a reason, and it’s Alissa. Use it. However, there are some women who like it when their boy toys call them something sweet. But, that doesn’t negate the creepier side of these nicknames.

I am not your baby. I’m simply not. Do not call me “baby” if you’ve known me six years, six weeks and certainly not six seconds. I am an adult, and I can take care of myself. I do not need you to feed me, burp me or swaddle me to sleep. I have not been an infant in almost two decades, and I am certainly not going to let someone make me feel eternally young and naïve. I am not anybody’s baby. I’m not a baby, period. Unless you are changing your girlfriend’s diaper and feeding her every four to six hours, she is not your baby.

If we just met and you’re trying to sweet talk me by calling me “baby,” you’re done before you even start. Pet names also create a hierarchy within the conversation. If you call me “baby,” “honey,” or “pumpkin” something that is sweet, little, and infantile, then you are implying that you are the higher being in the conversation. You have control. Not only is it degrading to be compared to a child, but it brings about possessive implications. I own myself, and nobody else can claim me. Even if we’re dating or married, you do not have ownership of me.

Now, let’s take a look at the coined term for these little nicknames: “Pet names.” This further brings about the problem of possession. You own your dog, your cat and your pet snake. They are helpless and need you to take care of them. I am not your dog, your cat or your pet snake.  They are called “pet names” because they are used to address an animal. How many cats are named “Arnold,” or “Ben,” or “Jennifer?” Not many. They are called Fluffy, Oreo and Whiskers things that associated with their appearance or their small, cute, innocent nature. I am not your pet. Please call me by my human name.

Coming from a place unrelated to the sexism that lies in these pet names, these little nicknames are disrespectful to any person, male or female, young or old. It is the same as addressing a person as “you,” “him,” “her,” or “it.” People have names, and they should be addressed by said names. Calling someone “sugar,” is the same as calling them “it,” essentially. It depersonalizes them, and in turn may make them feel inferior. This is the same reason some “playboys” use pet names for their many female endeavors—so they don’t mix up their names. I’ve found that these pet names give men the illusion of having an ulterior motive, whether they do or not, especially if they call you dollface upon meeting them. If a man truly likes and respects you, romantically or platonically, he will call you by your name, simply because he likes the sound of it.