When Jens and Isabel* got married seven years ago, there was little doubt that the two were madly in love. In any case, that is expected of any newlyweds. While dating, Jens always referred to Isabel as kifaranga, Swahili for a chicken hatchling.
Two children later, Jens uses the once lovely moniker less and less. According to Isabel, Jens says it is time the hatchling grew up and sees no more reason to keep on referring to her in such a term.
That aside, the use of pet names – most of them sugary or food related – by dating and married couples has been with us for long.
“Honey” “babe” “sweet pie” “cupcake” or their equivalents are phrases thrown around randomly by lovers to insinuate the extent of their romantic attraction between them. Apparently, when those around such people overhear the use of such names, they are supposed to sense a strong bond of commitment between the couple.
Once the preserve of the Western world, the culture of using pet names by couples has become ingrained in our local, urban culture.
However, the issue of using such names always elicits mixed reactions in our overly conservative society. Some deride those who use such names while others say it is a mark of affection between two lovers.
So, is the use of pet names (or what Women’s Health magazine referred to as sweet or silly nothings) a barometer to gauge how happy a couple is?
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Joana, who affectionately uses the name ‘sweetie’ to refer to her husband says such a culture is important. However, she tells this writer in confidence that she uses the name so as to prod him to use it on her as well.
“You see women are more emotional than men who tend to be more visual. I like it when he uses the same name to refer to me. I am a mother of two but I don’t want him to refer to me as mama so-and-so. It makes me feel old while ‘sweetie’ conveys the idea of freshness,” says Joana who is married for 13 years.
Of course, to use or not to use pet names on each other is a purely a private matter. In fact, Annete, who is currently dating says such a matter ought to be a private affair between the two rather than a “calling card” to be thrown around in public circles. Like many things a couple do, adds Annete, the use of such names ought to be a private affair rather than do it for a show.
She says our forefathers too had affection for each other though they may not have used such pet names. She cites the many wedding ceremonies carried on local TV stations showing very elderly couples renewing their wedding vows after being together for half a century or more.
“They may not have gone around holding hands or showing the so called PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) in the youthful days. But there was no doubt that they loved each other. The problem with our generation is going overboard with such affectionate terms even using them on social media,” she says.
Annete says what matters most is the true heart condition of those using such terms. She says they must walk the talk by acting to the true meaning of such pet names.
According to Scientific American, such terms of endearment play an important role when conflicts arise adding that they allow a “natural recourse to humor and playfulness when things get rough.”
“I think it’s a really human, natural behaviour to take language and shape it for our own purposes. I think that’s how nicknames evolve. We name things, we give things symbols, and over time we tend to naturally manipulate those symbols toward a certain outcome,” states the magazine.
But there are those diametrically opposed to the use of such names saying this is one way of playing to the gallery in addition to aping foreign concepts.
Meet Nelly, a mother of one married for over a decade. She says the love between her and her husband has been on the rise despite them not using any specific pet name.
“I have always used my husband’s name Jack to refer to him. There is nothing wrong with that. Why the show now?” she poses.
Nelly throws in another facet of this ‘name calling’ that will no doubt send alarm bells ringing.
“Some of my female friends using pet names are the insecure lot, those who feel there is always someone lurking in the dark to steal the love and affection that their husbands give them. They will use the names when the man is in the company of some ladies to show how ‘deep’ their romance runs,” she says.
According to Nelly, she would be surprised if her husband came home one evening and started to throw in such words. “I would really be worried as to what he wants,” she says.
On the other hand there are those reluctant to take on such names citing cases where philandering mates use them to conceal their “side dishes.”
“Why should I be called names that do not resonate with a man’s actions,” says Dolly, a married woman from Eastern Kenya. “This fellow will spend the whole evening drinking out there with his buddies then stagger home in the morning calling you ‘babe.’ How many other “babes’ did he utter out there? Let actions speak louder than words.”
Jennifer Karina, a marriage counselor and author of the book Marriage Built to Last, says the use of pet names follows a particular trend at any given time.
“Each generation has what it considers trendy. It is like a fashion. In our time we had honey, sweetheart and darling. There are no written rules in this game of using such pet names,” she says.
According to Karina, the use of such names is all about edification. A person can even use such names to his or her own gratification such as when a young man is interested in a certain lady.
So does the use of pet names indicate the depth of a couple’s relationship? Does a lack of such names in some couples indicate the cooling off of romance? You make the call.