I was just reading this angst-ridden query on A Practical Wedding, asking about alternative names for “wife” and “husband,” and before I read it, I thought the staff at APW had read my mind. Because, since spending a charming evening with the neighbors (who invited us over! at the spur of the moment! on a Monday! Yay!!!) I’ve been thinking about pet names. That article is not about pet names. So, I decided to write one that is.
“Would you like me to make you some tea, Love?”
Oh how I envy the casually tossed about pet name. Especially the British “Love.” It’s so endearing, so romantic. I know two Ameri-Brit couples who use it habitually and you can just color me jealous.
Then there’s the usual American list: Dear, Honey, Sugar (though I’ve never heard this one used outside a diner), Muffin (this must have come into vogue before “muffin top” was a thing), Sweetie, and Darlin’ (again, diner, and possibly the South).
I like the idea of pet names – they show a sweet intimacy, and can also be used to show passive-aggressive irritation. A sharply thrown “SWEETIE?!” is always a good way to begin the question “WHERE DID YOU PUT THE SCISSORS THIS TIME?!”
But in practice, it feels awkward to both Rogue Groom and myself. We don’t really do Public Displays of Affection either, like some of our couple friends do. We’ve kissed on camera precisely once, and that was at our wedding – at the alter. It’s all very English if you ask me. Perhaps that’s why my favorite “pet” name for RG is the prefix “Mister.” There’s something that amuses my English Major mind to take something formal and turn it on its head into a pet name.
In one of my favorite plays, “The Way of the World” by William Congreve, the two principal characters, Mirabell (the gent) and Millamant (the lady), are discussing the ground rules of their impending marriage. Millamant says:
And d’ye hear, I won’t be called names after I’m married; positively I won’t be called names—Ay, as “wife,” “spouse,” “my dear,” “joy,” “jewel,” “love,” “sweet-heart,” and the rest of that nauseous cant, in which men and their wives are so fulsomely familiar—I shall never bear that. Good Mirabell, don’t let us be familiar or fond, nor kiss before folks, like my Lady Fadler and Sir Francis; . . . but let us be very strange and well-bred. Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while, and as well-bred as if we were not married at all.
Translated into today’s standards, this means maintaining a little space in order to preserve romance. As much as I love pet names, let’s not get overly familiar, shall we?