What do you call the people you love?
Here in the Philippines, I’ve heard all sorts of terms of endearment being used — from the English ‘baby’ to the Tagalog ‘mahal’ to the Cebuano ‘langga.’ No matter the language, endearments are known to be a universal expression of love, familiarity, and affection. For the Chinese, it’s no different. Even Chinese family, friends, and lovers alike are in the habit of calling each other cutesy nicknames and pet names.
So therein lies the question: What do the Chinese call each other? For those who are curious — or for those planning to impress their Chinese significant other — here is a list of endearments you can use for your loved ones:
1) 宝贝 (bǎo bèi) & 宝宝 (bǎo bǎo)
Baobei means “treasure” or “darling.” Baobao means “baby.” Often used by lovers, as well as by mothers toward their children, both terms are some of the most common endearments you’ll hear in Chinese conversation. That said, baobei and baobao are also considered to be very cheesy, so despite their popularity among young couples, you would be hard-pressed to find these two endearments romantically called out in public.
2) 心肝 (xīn gān)
Literally meaning “heart and liver,” xingan is used to refer to one who is most beloved and precious. Just like how a person cannot live without their organs, a xingan is someone you cannot live without. The term can also be extended to the full phrase, 心肝宝贝 or xingan baobei, which is a typical term of endearment used by parents to refer to their children.
3) 傻瓜 (shǎ guā) & 猪头 (zhū tóu)
Some of the most popular endearments in the Chinese language are insults. Shagua and zhutou, for example, literally mean “silly melon” and “pig head,” respectively. Though, depending on the context, both can be taken to mean “fool” or “stupid,” but there is no need to feel down about being called one. After all, these endearments are used with a tone of playfulness and affection.
In other words, though you may be an idiot, you are also someone’s beloved idiot.
4) 亲爱的 (qīn ài de)
A qin ai de is someone who is dear to a person. Though the term is most often used between couples romantically, it can also apply to any close relationship, in pretty much the same way a person would say that one misses a “dear friend” or their “dear parents.”
5) 老婆 (lǎo po) & 老公 (lǎo ɡōnɡ)
Lao po and lao gong are casual words that refer to one’s wife and one’s husband. Despite implying marriage, these romantic endearments are often used by couples of all ages, including teenagers, to express familiarity and affection.