Did You Just Call Me Duck?! Baby Nicknames from Around the World

My father used to call me Horseball; an affectionate, if somewhat unconventional, nickname. My five-year-old optimism (and literal brain) lead me to believe that I had earned this moniker for my skill at horse-play, and because I was spirited, like a … ball of horses! It wasn’t until I was much older and I came face-to-face with a raised tail on the business end of a real, live horse that I realized just how far my father had strayed from nicknaming orthodoxy.

I live in Japan now, and when my friends heard me call my girl Funny Monkey, they laughed and laughed and laughed, both humored and somewhat aghast. It was as if I had called her Horse Poop. This struck me as odd; isn’t it a parenting universal that we give pet names to our kids? Turns out, nicknaming conventions have much variation the world over. — Erica Knecht

  • The UK 1 of 13
    The UK
    While the British share many of our North American nicknaming conventions, pet names often have a regional flair. If you're from Sussex, you might call your kiddo duck. A Northerner might bestow the name hinny or pet on her wee one. And if you're Scottish, your baby's nickname might be hen, or sweetpie.
  • France 2 of 13
    It's no surprise that the French turn to food as a muse for their terms of endearment. Little Louis' parents might call him mon chou (my little cabbage, or perhaps more sweetly, my little cream puff). Mon roudoudou, (my hard caramel); or mon poussin (my little chicken) are also typical. One of the most common nicknames, ma pouce (my flea) is, however, decidedly less appetizing.
  • North America 3 of 13
    North America
    According to conventional North American nicknaming wisdom, children are named after foodstuffs that are sweet, circular, and plump (muffin, honey bun, pumpkin, cookie, or sweet pea), or cute and fluffy animals (bunny, monkey, hug bug), but certainly not after the excretions thereof — bunny poop doesn't exactly have the same ring to it.
  • The Netherlands 4 of 13
    The Netherlands
    Pet names for Dutch babies are quite similar to those of their Anglo counterparts. Mothers call their wee ones schatje (sweetie) or lieverd (darling). Mischievous little tots might be called aapje, or little monkey.
  • Germany 5 of 13
    Germany is a great place to turn to for sweet baby nicknames. Little animals serve as the naming springboard. A mother might call her kiddo spatz for sparrow, mausi for little mouse, bärchen for little bear, or sweetest of all, gummibärchen for little gummy bear.
  • Norway 6 of 13
    Kallenvn, or nickmakes in Norwegian, are often bestowed upon a child by the littlest family members, whose pronunciation of a new babe's given name may be just a wee bit off. Christine might become Stine, and Christoffer transforms to Offer. More general nicknames are inspired not from foods or animals, but by the child's size or behavior. A blond little boy might be called lille gull (little gold) or a newly chattering babe might be named tullemor (nonsense mother). If you had a mischievous toddler? Well, he'd be called troll. Naturally.
  • Serbia 7 of 13
    The award for most hilarious baby nickname goes to Serbia, where little baby boys, the apple of their grandmothers' eye, are awarded the name babino mali patchen, or grandmother's little penis. Okay, okay — if truth be told, patchen really means baby duck, but it's a common colloquial term for penis.
  • Egypt 8 of 13
    Arabic given names are often shortened to produce a child's nickname. Muhammad becomes Mimi, and Fatima, Fifi. But the loveliest nicknames of all, though, are habibi for boys and habibati for girls, which mean my beloved.
  • Pakistan 9 of 13
    There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nicknaming kids in Pakistan, although dubbing a wee one in celebration of his chub is common. Calling your kiddo ladoo after a round, golf ball-sized sweet, dudoo for (fat) frog, or even moti (meaning fat) are all standard nicknaming practices.
  • India 10 of 13
    Parents in India are unencumbered by strict nicknaming codes and are free to develop creative, nonsense nicknames. Rinku is a popular example, which has no translatable meaning. The current generation of parents are moving away from nicknaming their kids, because nicknames tend to stick around long after babyhood — and perhaps there's something unbecoming about referring to your adult son
    as Rinku.
  • Japan 11 of 13
    Japanese kids are never named after animals, or food, or mythical creatures. Instead, Japanese parents attach the suffix -chan for girls' names and -kun for boys' names. Though, if your boy is exceptionally cute, you can call him kaito chan. By itself, kaito means kite (which could get confusing at the park!).
  • China 12 of 13
    Western-style nicknames are uncommon in China. Instead, parents often double the first syllable of their tot's given name. Quingquing, Xuanxuan, and Jingjing are all typical examples. So why not add a little worldly flair to your nicknaming and try out Ma-ma or Wy-wy for your little Maddie or Wyatt?
  • Philippines 13 of 13
    Filipino nicknames break down along generational lines. Three generations ago, parents gave their kids Spanish names and the corresponding diminutive nickname. David became Davidico, and Manuel became Manolito. Two generations ago, -ing names were all the rage. June became Juneing, and Rosalinda became Rosaling. Now, as my Filipino friend says, these just sound like old people. Today cute double names are popular, and babies might go by Jun-Jun or Jong-Jong.

What nicknames are you planning on calling your baby?

Erica Knecht is a mother, writer, and professional nomad, currently based in Southern Japan. When not gallivanting across the globe with her one-year-old, she blogs about the lighter side of tri-cultural parenting on her blog Expatria, Baby.



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