After 10 years of being with my guy, I know I’m in for a serious conversation when he refers to me by my first name, Kimberly. Even though these three syllables have been mine for over three decades now—and he’s been in my life for just a third of that time—hearing them roll off his tongue sounds weird. Unnatural, even. That’s because in our home, I’m known simply as “Babe.” And he is too.
Last year, the company, Superdrug Online Doctor, released the results of an exploratory survey it conducted to better understand people’s perception of pet names in romantic relationships. In a sample of 1,026 participants between the ages of 20 and 71, 87 percent of Americans and three-quarters of Europeans said these cutesy terms do appear in their vocabulary. And more men than women (85 percent versus 76 percent) said they used them.
The survey also looked at what some of these terms of endearment actually were: The three that were disliked the most by respondents were “Papi,” “Daddy,” and “Sweet Cheeks,” while “Baby,” “Babe,” and “Honey” were found to be the affectionate nicknames most often used in the bedroom by both men and women. (The terms "baby" and "babe" have earned negative stigmas of late for being associated with toxic masculinity—but that's not always the case, obviously).
Additionally, the survey found that American couples who weren’t afraid to call their honey, well, “Honey” or a similar pet name were 16 percent more likely to be satisfied in their relationships. For Europeans, the increase in satisfaction measured about 9 percent.
As the survey’s authors write: “Under the right circumstances (and with the right nicknames in mind), pet names aren’t just a cute way to get your partner’s attention—they can be a sign you’ve gotten comfortable enough with each other to develop a love language. While not always appropriate in public (at least according to some), it’s not uncommon for couples to develop their own affectionate code names that might even work their way into the bedroom.”
He added: “Most couples tell me they’re shocked or know something is wrong in the relationship when a partner actually calls them by their actual name and not their nickname,” (Good to know I’m not the only one).
For what it’s worth, there is some scientific research that supports the notion that nicknames are associated with relationship satisfaction. Back in the early ‘90s, a couple of communication researchers published a study on this very topic: In their limited analysis, they found a link between idiosyncratic communication—or the unique language that develops between a couple, including cute nicknames—and relationship satisfaction for couples in their first five years of marriage without children.
That research is more than 25 years old now, but lead study author Carol J. Bruess maintains that her findings still resonate now. In a 2015 interview with Scientific American, she noted: “If we can’t laugh at ourselves and with each other in the relationship, we’re less likely to sustain that relationship in a positive way over time.” And let’s be real: You know you want to laugh a little every time you hear your partner call you “Sweet Cheeks” or “Sugar Butt.”