Appropriate Names To Call People In Different Environments

Updated October 25, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: April Brewer , DBH, LPC

We Are Social Creatures:

As human beings, we can share our emotions non-verbally, through body language and physical touch. It is postulated that there are seven types of physical affection in human relationships. Backrubs/massages, caressing/stroking, cuddling/holding, holding hands, kissing on the lips, kissing on the face, and hugging.

And, outside of physical touch, we find names to call people along with other unique ways of showing affection, signifying our bond and connection. However, we have to be very careful about how we move forward in deciding what is appropriate to call people and what is not. While we might think that we are giving someone an affectionate name, they may take it as offensive.


Names to Call People:

As a social being, we tend to create ways to enhance our relationship with each other. One example of how we do this is by creating nick-names or pet names for our loved ones like our partner, family member or friends aside from their original names. In the language of my youth, these were called terms of endearment, which had the potential to create and communicate positive and loving vibes to the person.

We call our partners "honey", "sweetheart", "dear", "loves", and many other sweet names. Some prefer alternative labels like "honeybunch", "sweet munchkin", "cupcake", "lamb chops", "tutti-frutti" just to name a few. The sweeter it sounds, the more it could enhance the relationship.

Psychology tells us that our brain is wired to hear enticement and respond proactively when stimulated in the correct manner. Otherwise, it will just remain static or non-responsive if there are no presenting stimuli. When a person calls you by other names, you respond differently.

For example, when your parents call you "munchkin", you feel that they are still caring for you and will take care of your needs. When a partner calls his/her partner "sweetheart", there is this loving connection between them which is appropriately acceptable.

But when your boss starts to call you "cupcake" or "mallows", this creates a different dynamic and could generate some negative implications. Pet names like these from a superior can be highly offensive, sarcastic, or even considered sexual harassment.

How To Distinguish If It's Offensive or Not

Communication has two types - verbal and non-verbal. However, in some situations, the nonverbal communication could hold the most meaning to whatever we speak about. For example, you may say "I Love You" to someone, but your body language and tone of voice could suggest otherwise. This could mean that you are not sincere in your verbalization of affection and would only stick to the denotation of the words. The real meaning is no longer there.

If your body language does not match the affectionate names that you are calling someone it can communicate an entirely different message than what you might have been meaning to communicate.

If you have been used to hearing sweet names before, surely you will sense a different interpretation if others would be calling you the same in a rather different circumstance. Remember that boss a while ago? Professional ethics dictate that proper behavior in the workplace should always be observed. This includes communication and relationships with co-workers. If this boss continues to call you on the level of sweetness, then we have a problem here. This can be considered a form of sexual harassment.

Consider Difference In Culture and Generations


Before you come up with pet names or nicknames to call the people in your life it's important that you carefully consider differences in both cultures and generations. One example of this is what your age is compared to the person that you want to give a nickname too. If the person is from an older generation than you they may not even like if you call them anything other than Mr. [last name] or Ms. [last name]. There are some cultures where using the titles for people's names is very important instead of just deciding to call them what you want.

It's important that you understand just because you think you are coming up with a fun name for someone it doesn't always mean that they will feel the same way about it. Before calling anyone something else make sure that you know for a fact that you know them well enough to know that they will be okay with it.

If You're Being Called Something You Don't Want To Be Called

There are people in life that are calling you by a nickname or pet name that you don't like then it's important that you stand up for yourself and correct them. Before you confront them on the issue make sure that you understand how they are meaning the name. You might be offended by it but they might not have meant it in an offensive way. So, while you can correct them, you may not want to do it in a confrontational way.

However, if you can tell that they don't mean it in an appropriate way then you need to nip it in the bud. You can tell them that you do not appreciate to be called that and then you can tell them exactly what you would like to be called.


As a general rule and in the most humane way, we must respect other people. Calling them other names are only acceptable if you have established a solid intimate relationship. Never call someone a name that could offend the personality of the person.

If you have experienced being called upon in an offensive way, this can result in some adverse psychological effects. If you believe it's sexual harassment it's important that you address it with your human resources department if it is happening at work. If you are suffering or having a hard time dealing with the results of this situation or are struggling to process if it's ok or not you can talk to a licensed therapist at BetterHelp. It is an online community of therapists that are able to provide counseling services for these types of situations.

A therapist can help you determine how your relationships are and what you could to do improve them. If you are struggling to keep boundaries that need to be established they can also help you identify these areas and then teach you the steps you need to do in order to shut down inappropriate behavior in the future. They can also help you learn how to respect the boundaries of others if you are the one that has crossed the line in the past.

Remember, when it comes to pet names or nick names, there are rules that come with them and it all depends on the type of relationship and how well you know the person.

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