Baby Talk

Today’s post comes to us from Bill.

I was driving somewhere the other day and my iPod was playing randomized tunes. Patsy Cline’s “Back in Baby’s Arms” had just finished and was followed by John Pizzarelli singing “Be My Baby Tonight”. That started me thinking about the use of “Baby” as a term of endearment. It’s probably the most common way of addressing one’s significant other in popular music. More popular, I suspect, in songs than in real life.

In the 47 years Robin and I have been together, I’ve never called her an infant. But, as one who can’t let random musings pass unconsidered, I wonder: How and when did infantilizing one’s partner become desirable? Why would that be considered romantic? Is calling someone a baby ever the basis of an equitable adult relationship?

And isn’t it sort of creepy when you think about it?

51 thoughts on “Baby Talk”

  1. My mother suffered from anxieties. The cute phrase for hat in our family was that she was a “worry wart.” The way her fears affected us was not always cute. She would latch on to some perceived problem and become quite a nag about it.

    One day she spent an hour telling my sister and me that we were failing to form a healthy relationship to the popular music of our time. It was a strange sort of failing, but she was in quite a lather about it. After detailing her concerns about us she proposed a happy solution. She gave each of us a dollar and demanded that we use it to buy a popular recording. Most of her anxieties had less appealing solutions.

    My sister and I walked to the local music store to sample recordings there. My sister bought a 45 rpm disk of Pat Boone crooning “Love Letters in the Sand.” Mom was delighted.

    Then she put on my record. The opening line was “Baby baby baby baby. Come back baby, I wanna play house with you.” It was one of the classic Sun record cuts by Elvis Presley.

    That was the day the anxiety of a mother launched the anxiety of a confused teenager. My mother was shocked to her core by my choice. Suddenly I passed from a clueless kid who failed to appreciate the music of his age to a tormented teenager who had passions his parents found shocking. It was 13. Before my mother sent me to spend that dollar, I didn’t know what being 13 was about, but by the time I brought that record home I knew.

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    1. Something about that memory is slightly askew, Steve. Love Letters in the Sand sung by Pat Boone wasn’t released until 1957; I know, I remember it well. The clueless teen you describe would have been 15, not 13, not a huge difference except in the context of how clueless you might have been. 🙂 I don’t connect that particular Elvis song never any teen memories, so that may well have been released earlier.

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  2. My former girl friend consistently called me “Babe” (No Blue Ox inferences allowed) and I called the 60 years old lady “Girl”. We both liked the given sobriquet. (Love that word…sobriquet…hummmmmm)

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    But then why we call each other baboons is a mystery to the rest of the world, but it makes sense to those of us who had Dale Connelly in our ears for years. I have to explain to non-baboon friends, why I am in a book club with “baboons.”

    I love nicknames. They are such a part of the culture of any given relationship: a family, a couple, a blog community. My uncle was a nick-namer and I always heard it as a “I love you–you are mine” statement.
    As a teen, tall and skinny, I was Jack Sprat. My sister Jo-Bo, brother Oh, Johnnie, Cousins Nellie-Belle, Gail-Bird, Juie-Bug, and Dan the Man. We still slip up and call each other those silly names 50 years into the thing.

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  4. As a child our family held many nicknames but as we became older they were dropped….except for the now and then reminders we give each other. My youngest sister….a real ‘surprise’ late comer…was to have been a boy and my father had chosen -to my horror- the name Moses. That name has followed her through life especially by me….she is Mosey. When my father was thanking a group for their gifts and kindnesses he could not think of her actual name…only Mosey. An elderly dear women spoke up with “Sarah Madelyn”.

    I’ve nicknamed and continually call my other sister Dr. Rebecky….her name is Rebekah and usually called Becky. I still address my brothers by Stevie and Timmy…despite their occupations and or thief ‘advanced’ age (70 & 69)

    Husband has given me many names….most common (& printable) was S,Lily….just a shortening of my actual given name. We have both called each other Babe…I chose to think of it as endearing. And in my case that it was complimentary as in ‘she’s a real babe’…but I don’t know where that phrase came from other than local coloquilism….movie?

    Makes no sense to hear many pet names or nicknames but I have always thought them to be a form of endearment.

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    1. My sister named her two kids Jimmy and Susie, actually named them that. They are now 50 and 47 years old, respectively, and Susie has adult kids of her own. It must seem normal to them, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I may be splitting hairs and this may be a personal interpretation, but I don’t react to “Babe” the way I do to “Baby”. Baby seems diminishing, Babe just familiar.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. One of my tasks at the flower shop is to try to sell what’s called a “finishing touch” with a bouquet of flowers – candy, balloons, stuffed animals, etc. I get a small commission if I’m successful. I’ve always find it a little creepy that on Valentine’s Day the guys that are big spenders will send a dozen roses, an “I Love You” mylar balloon, a box of chocolates, and a teddy bear. I don’t dislike teddy bears per se, but I can’t think of any point in my life when I would have been pleased to receive a one from a romantic partner. Seems sort of silly to me. A commission is a commission, though.

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    1. Of course, attaching a vibrator or a condom might be just as off-putting as a teddy bear. I imagine the teddy-bear is cheaper and more socially acceptable. But here is a chance to create your own line of finishing touches!

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  6. Our children currently refer to their father as “Dazzle”. Husband says that his father called himself Dazzle, too, so it is a family tradition, I guess. It comes from Razzle Dazzle Rootbeer.

    Son calls me Zoom. Daughter calls me Boomer. I refer to son as Gaberoo. I refer to daughter as Anniebear or Little Volcano, depending on the circumstance.

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  7. Dating after turning 60 is unbelievably weird. One of many odd memories I have from what I call my “Match-dot-com years” was the response I got from a woman named Barbara. People who get together using online dating services will discuss just about anything, but perhaps the main topic at first is the divorce (or divorces) both of you have experienced. Barbara asked me what pet names my erstwife used for me and I used for her. Darling? Dearest? Baby? Honeybunch?

    When I told her neither of us used a pet name for the other, Barbara went ballistic. She was gobsmacked. NO pet names AT ALL? That was utterly inconceivable.

    I’m not so shocked, but–hey–maybe this is why the marriage only lasted 31 years.

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  8. Interesting about using “baby” as a pet name for an adult spouse or lover. To me, the word has always had a negative connotation, implying that the person called “baby” isn’t as mature as the speaker. Yes, I know it’s seen as a term of endearment, but doesn’t work for me. I’ve never called my wife or any of my handful of “girlfriends” before her “Babe” or “Baby” or “Baby Doll.”

    Perhaps that’s why I had the villain in my book (Castle Danger), Donnie Vossler, use “Baby Doll” often when referring to his wife, Allyson Clifford. It indicated to me, and I hope to readers, that he considered her more of a child or a plaything than as an equal partner in their marriage. But he got what he deserved in the end, so it’s all good, right?

    Let that be a lesson to you, fellas. Calling your woman “Baby Doll” may be hazardous to your health. 😉

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Well, that’s quite the can of worms you’ve opened there, Bill. I don’t have a problem with “pet” names or terms of endearment, although no one has ever called me “baby” or “babe.” I do wonder, though, to what extent “equitable adult relationships” are conducive to “romance.” Seems to me that “romance” requires indulging in some kind of fantasy or out of the ordinary gesture; engaging in some kind of creative play. Maybe I just don’t understand “romance” well, but it seems to me that nothing will kill it faster than a predictable routine.

    One thing that I have never understood, is the high-pitched baby talk some women resort to when they want something from their mate. I often wonder when I’m talking with a woman whose voice seems perpetually stuck in the high register what she’d sound like if she got really angry about something.

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    1. Hmm! Is that a learned behavior, and how is it acquired? Is there an alternative behavior that eould be equally effective yet maintain one’s dignity?

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      1. Implicit in that behavior is an uneven power dynamic where one partner is the grantor and one the grantee. I don’t think there’s any way one can assume the role of supplicant and retain one’s dignity.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m a little confused. It sounds like you are equating “equitable adult relationship”, i.e mutual respect and esteem, with predictability. I don’t see the connection.
      One thing I was getting at in the post and which has been reflected in some of the responses is the seeming confusion between infantilization and sexuality. It goes both ways, with the infantilization of adults, especially ones who are cast in subservient roles, as Chris refers to and Linda implies, and also the sexualization of children as in the world of junior beauty pageants, etc.

      As posts often do, the post has veered into a discussion of nicknames and I’m fine with that, though personally I’ve never been given one that stuck other than “Bumpa”, the sobriquet my granddaughters use.

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      1. I think the connection for me is that all nicknames, including Baby, imply a day-to-day intimacy and vulnerability in the setting in which we know each other. I don’t think the use of Babe or Baby always implies a power dynamic, although it can do so. I think it implies the sense of vulnerability in the relationship. The affectionate Blog reference to all of us as Baboons hails without words, back to the days when The Morning Show was ended and we all felt vulnerable without it somehow. For me, “How would I get through my day without that familiar comfort?”

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      2. My oldest grandchild, now nearly 19, named me Bocker. We don’t know why. It has stuck through all three grands and most of the immediate family call me that now, at least when talking about me to the kids. I love being Bocker, and I feel a little like Tigger (‘cuz I’m the only one)!

        Liked by 2 people

  10. To me, the “Baby” or “Babe” used affectionately by adults has nothing to do with infants, except perhaps to control or show ownership. Then it gets creepy.

    The name Barbara invites a plethora of nicknames (Babs, Bobbie, Barby, Barbwire, Barbadino..and the unfortunate Ba-ba-ba-ba-barbara ann). I actually kind of enjoy BiR.

    We called Joel, in infancy when he would cry or wail, The Woo. Didn’t stick past toddlerhood, but at leat it wasn’t something like our niece “Fartblossom.”

    My sister and son are here till Tuesday – I’ll be in and out… have a good weekend, BABOONS.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. After thinking about it today I realize that only one person in my world gets called “Baby” and that is YA. Lots of people are Babe and I have LOTS of nicknames for friends and family – but even wasband wasn’t “Baby”.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Completely OT. Blevin’s Book Club page has finally been updated:

    Sunday, August 13
    Minnehaha Park (near Sea Salt)
    2 p.m.

    The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood
    by Sy Montgomery

    &

    Plainsong
    by Kent Haruf

    Liked by 1 person

  13. i am really enjoying the good good pig
    plainsong next
    my daughter has a performance the 15th at 3 so i will likely not make it til the end

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    1. you can all come see her in hair at the childrens theaterat 3 then the book club. her final pre college performance. my little girl never was a baby kind of kid but she is a sweet soul and a talented actress heading off to follow her dream. fun to be a part of.

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  14. about 25 years ago my atlanta buddy called his significant darlin and i thought that was perfect. my wife, my daughters, waitresses… my kids say, you cant just call people darlin. dad. but i do

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  15. i walked into the room and my oldest son had his phone on speaker phone and his significant was talking in a betty boop voice oooo my wittow babeeee boooiiiii. i wuub you sooo much…..and she was serious.
    i was dumbfounded. i didnt think she was pitiful little twit and now i have to remember that she may be a wonderful person who just talks like that. but i do feel my poor son is signing on for a different brand of misery that the brands i have chosen for my particular brand of horrible choices. it did make my kind of sick to my stomach but kind of creepy is a simple all encompassing way of wrapping your brain around
    my daughters have the

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    1. my daughters have discovered the true meaning of learning how not to do what they have witnessed by my wife and i at our worst. they have chosen to have wonderful relationships with guys who are gay. the couple of tastes of males who get it wrong are enough to scare them off. i dont think baby has come into play ‘but relationships in general are a fragile undertaking and the babe factor whether it be a reference to misdirected affection or to what is not so much a question but a cultural/world dysfunction. bob got the idea out in front of us sideways in the 60’s

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  16. This was a fun discussion. And once again it confirmed the different strokes for different folks theory. What some people consider affectionate and playful, others consider demeaning and objectionable.

    I’d love to continue this discussion, in person. Equitable relationships are difficult to achieve, in my experience.

    Liked by 2 people

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