Who Are You Calling Hunny?

By Avery B.

Hun. Babe. Love muffin. Snugglebug. By reading these four names you can begin to picture a couple canoodling, showing their affection for each other. The majority of people can agree, even if they haven’t been in a relationship, that pet names and terms of endearment, of all sorts, are components that naturally come along with being romantically involved with someone. Although this might not be the case everywhere around the world, in the United States, couples aren’t discouraged from displaying their love openly through their communication with one another.

When an interpretive anthropologist looks at this phenomenon, they analyze how learning and sharing these romantic symbols throughout our lives leads to the continuity of this occurrence.1 As we grow up, we pick up on the symbols of romantic relationships in a variety of ways. We are exposed to our parents and other family members calling each other affectionate terms, like babe and hunny, and begin to correlate the use of those terms with affection. In addition, we learn the expectation to use terms of endearment through the media we are exposed to. Movies and tv shows are constantly filled with romance and show us what actions relay affection. We pick up on how couples should talk to each other and that their love is demonstrated through symbols like terms of endearment. The interpretive anthropologist would say we pick up on the fact that pet names are symbols for love that carry meaning of affection within our culture. However, they would also emphasize that without our specific cultural context, these symbols of love hold no meaning. Calling someone outside of our culture love muffin would lead to confusion, but Americans have a shared understanding that this term has an affectionate meaning. The interpretive anthropologist would also add that overtime everyone in the culture learns these symbols and interprets how they should act because of them, which carries on this phenomenon.1 Eventually, we all begin to use pet names in our relationships as symbols for our affection.

A structural functionalist would pay attention to how using terms of endearment is a common practice within our society and functions as a way of showing affection within social relations. For example, men are seen as tough and dominant in our society. However, when they are in a relationship it is expected that they show a softer side and express their emotions openly. Using names like babe functions as a way of showing their affection. By taking part in this practice, they are able to build a stronger bond with their partner. In conflict with that, men are not supposed to use these terms with their friends. Due to the fact that calling a romantic partner a pet name functions as a way to show affection, comfort and closeness, exercising this practice within a group of men is not consistent with their image of strength. Therefore, we can see how affectionate pet names act as a structural component of solely intimate relationships.


1http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532647/Symbolic%20and%20Interpretive%20Anthropology#MainPoints, accessed 27 February 2019.

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23 Responses to Who Are You Calling Hunny?

  1. Lucille Weld says:

    I think Interpretive anth was a great way to explain the presence of pet names in the U.S. It is interesting how we learn through media and behavioral models the correct way to show affection. With the existence of a correct way there must be an “incorrect” way to show affection which made me think of Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Cultures in which a person may become abnormal if they reject normalized values of culture. In the U.S, showing no emotion to a romantic partner and opting out of pet names would be the “incorrect” way to display affection.

  2. Riley Meisner says:

    What a great analysis. Not only is this a topic that many, if not most, U.S. student are familiar with, but it is not often discussed. Even strangers conversing back and forth tend to exchange these terms as neighborly titles. I think that the Symbolic or Interpretive theory really helps shed light on the true meaning hidden behind the literary phrases. I would be interested to see if using a Practice theory approch would allow one to see how this hegemonic system of words controls our conversations. You brought up the divisions of gender, which could be written extensively on by using Feminist or Queer Anthropology Theories. Still, for having restricted time and word counts, you really provided an exemplar discussion!

  3. Darby Simpson says:

    I think that it is super important to look at this phenomena through the interpretive lens because it gives so much insight on the medias influence on everything we do, including parts of our romantic relationships. Looking through this lens while analyzing romantic relationships in the US helps us to understand socially acceptable PDA but also how gender norms and violence against women are culturally reproduced especially thought the media. Overall, I really enjoyed this post due to the fact that the origin of things such as pet names never really occurred to me until now.

  4. Cassie Feely says:

    I had honestly never thought about the fact that terms of endearment that make sense to us in the United States aren’t culturally universal. My boyfriends roommate grew up in Yemen, and he’s been in the US long enough to understand a lot of our cultural innuendos and phrases but every now and then he won’t understand a phrase we’ve grown up using, and I never considered that this was the same when it came to terms of endearment, but it is entirely that way. Great analysis, and great job choosing interpretive anthropology to look at this, it definitely provided a perspective that other lenses might not have

  5. Skylar Scharer says:

    I think it’s also interesting to think about parents terms of endearment toward children, not just to each other. “Pumpkin, bunny, princess, cupcake, baby, honey…” Some of the terms of endearment stay constant from childhood to adulthood. Now, when someone calls me a term of endearment I prefer the one I’m used to. I also thought about a piece by Patricia Covarrubius I read in my communication class that talks about how the names people call use shapes our identity. For example, Patricia moved from Mexico to the United States when she was younger. Some people called her “pat”, which she had never head before, some called her “Patricia”, her mother called her nina, and a bully called her “taco.” Each name defined a relationship the same way each term of endearment does.

  6. Cella DeSousa says:

    I find it intriguing how in our given culture, phrases such as these are accepted and is one of the many or few ways we can express our affections to one another. I also believe it gives us insight on the kind of influences romantic movies and tv shows have on us and our actions. Furthermore, I’m fascinated that each name given to women and men define or are connected to certain relationships and the way they function. I think you did an awesome job of explaining the relationship between the two using interpretive anthropology.

  7. Julia Giltner says:

    I really enjoyed reading your essay, and I honestly had never thought about how Americans associate pet names with love and affection. I also think there is somewhat of an expectation to eventually reach that level with your boyfriend or girlfriend where you call each other babe or some sort of name, I think it’s supposed to represent a new, deeper level in your relationship. I, like almost every other American, grew up hearing my parents and other people call each other these pet names and I always kind of cringed when I heard it, but like I said it seems somewhat expected in a relationship. Overall, great analysis and very interesting essay!

  8. Daniel Friedman says:

    Before reading this I had never thought twice about the cultural aspect of pet names for significant others. I think it was brilliant how you used how pet names, through a structural functionalist perspective, can show how men should act within culture. It blows my mind that something as simple as pet names have help construct social norms.

  9. Ali Copsy says:

    This is a very interesting topic! I didn’t realize how normalized American culture has made the use of pet names for loved ones. Looking back at past relationships I had never realized how seamlessly we both fell into the use of pet names and nick names for each other. It might also be interesting to look at the ways in which pet names are still used by couples even when in fights as if it will somehow sugar coat whats going on. I also enjoyed the theories you used in order to analyze this topic, they seem to explain this idea perfectly.

  10. Kasey Braun says:

    This is a great essay and I love how the pet names at the beginning set the stage for the rest of the paper. Affection through nicknames is an interesting topic because opinions of them vary depending on the relationship status of the person. When someone is single, that person may detest hearing a couple call each other babe or hunny. But when someone is in a relationship, these nicknames may be a huge source of happiness and love. I think it is interesting how the names that couples call each other are often times because of what we experience and hear other couples call each other.

  11. Adam Benavram says:

    Choosing to focus on “pet names” for an essay topic was a great idea because it is a specific social phenomenon that has become engrained in our culture. It’s actually funny to think about how calling someone a love muffin might not make any sense in another country, but it holds connotations of love in the U.S. Also, your structural functionalist approach was eye opening. Men are really only supposed to mention pet names to their romantic partner. Anything else would disrupt the traditional U.S. social structure. Even in romantic relationships though, I think that men can sometimes still be made fun of for calling their romantic partners by terms of endearment such as “snugglebug.” It is probably overall more acceptable for women to use these terms.

  12. Isabella Parker says:

    I found your essay to be very interesting. This is a topic that I have observed and been aware of but have not necessarily analyzed. It has just become a norm in our cultural and you kind of expect couples to interact with each other in that way. If they don’t then it comes off as kind of weird or like something is wrong. I have never really thought about masculinity in relation to terms of endearment with a partner but it completely makes sense and seems really obvious now. Men when accompanied by other straight men would never use tho terms towards each other. Those words and that space is supposed to be shared with a loved one.

  13. Aryana Goodarzi says:

    There are so many culturally-created things in US society that I’ve never really thought about because they are so inherent. My parents always call each other “buddy” or my mom will call my dad “hubby” when talking about him. My parents always call me and my brother “Azizam” which is basically sweetie in Farsi. I also liked how your paper made me think about which spaces are okay for these words and who it is okay to use these words towards.

  14. Glenn Jones says:

    This was an entertaining essay; you wrote about something that is common in American society but that a lot of people don’t stop to think about. I definitely agree that movies and TV shows play a part in teaching people to use pet names. Your interpretive anthropologist’s analysis of pet names as culturally-specific symbols of affection was well thought-out and convincing. I wonder whether pet names are truly less common in other societies than American society. Or do other societies have their own commonly-used pet names? The structural functionalist view of pet names you present is also very insightful. As you pointed out, there are definite social norms regarding pet names. It’s considered completely normal for a boyfriend and girlfriend to refer to each other using pet names. On the other hand, it would be considered odd for a straight man to refer to one of his male friends as “snugglebug.” Your point that there are a set of norms regarding pet name use ties in perfectly with your earlier point that pet names are a cultural construct–these terms have a certain meaning because society gives them that meaning.

  15. Lucas Rozell says:

    Interpretive anthropology was an interesting choice for this topic! Like so many cultural phenomena, we don’t think deeply about things like pet names unless it’s pointed out to us. Social norms regarding affection and the ways we show it differ between cultures wildly, and the structural functionalist view accounts for the ingrained rules about affection. This was an insightful analysis into an intriguing aspect of American culture.

  16. Ari Rabor says:

    I like this essay a lot. I think you were eloquent in the way you wrote and articulated your ideas. I think you put into words a lot of what people subconsciously think. The idea about the pet names having no meaning (like “love muffin” which I haven’t heard before) was very interesting and put a new interpretation on terms of affection.

  17. Kloe Lee says:

    This essay is very interesting as it is a topic that is so widely recognized but barely ever discussed. Pet names are so normalized in the media and among those around me, that I never gave much thought to the societal influence on something I thought to be so trivial. Looking at this topic through an interpretive lens lends much insight into how we learn these behaviors. It is just one more example to add to the pill of things that are so heavily influenced by the media. I think we all know that the media plays a very prevalent role in our lives; even in our most intimate and romantic relations despite how private/personal this aspect of our life may seem. On top of pets names, we can look at things such as PDA, gender norms in a relationship, and sex through the same lens and find the media’s influence.

  18. Theodore Gonzales says:

    Great essay! I think that if another essay were to be written about the terms used in relationships in America it would be interesting to see how typical ideas of masculinity changes when in a relationship. I think masculinity in the U.S. sort of restricts the amount of emotions or “softness” someone can show publicly, but, once in a relationship, as you pointed out, it becomes more acceptable to show a “soft side.” I thought that was an interesting point that could be expanded into another essay. Thank you!

  19. Athen Hudson says:

    Wow! After reading your essay, I was able to really think about how signifiant pet names are in American society. Because the use of pet names is so ingrained in our culture, it is often forgotten how unusual they may appear to people from different cultural backgrounds. Moreover, I really enjoyed how you employed media as an example to demonstrate their prevalence. Other than being exposed to pet names by our parents, one of the major influencers is the media (i.e. TV, movies, etc). The way you applied structural functionalism to this concept was a really clever and insightful way put things into perspective for your readers. All in all, this essay was interesting, thought-provoking, and a great read.

  20. Evan Fleming says:

    It is interesting how little I think about this. My parents never called each other pet names and I personally don’t like them at all. However, after reading your article I can see how some individuals might find it proper in a relationship and also confusing to cultural outsiders. Maybe this will change my perception of the practice. And guys do have petnames for each other, they are just usually crass. Haha.

  21. Bryan Fierro says:

    Reading this essay I couldn’t help but look at relationships and the similarities they have with relationships in other cultures. Coming from a Mexican background I found similarities between the points the essay creates in terms of how relationships use these terms of endearment in a way that expresses what is commonly used in society in the U.S to the way that people in relationships in other societies are also expected to perform, regardless of what the individuals exceptions would be outside of their relationship.

  22. Kira Lowe says:

    Really good essay! While I read it I couldn’t help but think of my own relationships and how my friends and I have used nicknames in the past and how we view others when they use them. I think it’s interesting how there are unspoken guidelines for how and when people are supposed to use these names. For example, two people who are casually hooking up are not expected to use them, but they second they might become official, they can. I’ve also noticed that people often get uncomfortable when loving nicknames like “baby” or “honey” are used around them. They almost act as physical forms of PDA and can make people feel uncomfortable at times. I know when I’ve seen people in the past use them excessively I’ve felt a little awkward, but when I use it with my boyfriend it’s no big deal. I really liked your essay and think you really hit the nail on the head with how people have come to use these terms of endearment!

  23. Anna Faigenbaum says:

    The opening sentence is a great glimpse into the endless possibilities of pet names experienced and heard in our culture. I really like your comparison of how men don’t use names such as “babe” when talking with their friends. This provides an interesting comparison of how women and girls often do refer to their friends as “babe” or “hun”, often times publicly on social media. In my experiences, pet names like these are used as compliments from friend to friend, for girls, but if a guy were ever to call his guy friend a “babe”, there would be controversy. But why?
    Using interpretive anthropology to analyze the pet names used between people in relationships was a great theory in comparison to how these names would be understood within other cultures. It made me think about, steering away from pet names, but also “slang” terms used in other cultures, and how they are misunderstood when out of context or in differing cultures.

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