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Italian pet names, nicknames and casual terms of endearment
elegant lady
sweet_gardenia wrote in little_details
Googled all of the above terms, got some great and useful hits but mostly lists of words with literal translations none of which really told me about the use of said words in context. So...

Say you have an Italian-American gent of the 1930's. He throws out some words now and then directed to a young lady who he finds at times both greatly annoying and amusing but there is no real romantic attraction involved in this relationship at the time. So the tone of these little pet names can be at times gently mocking, even contemptuous and exasperated but not necessarily hateful or mean-spirited. Think of how the hard-boiled noir detective might call the dame involved in his story something like " honey " or " sweetheart " or " darling " or " kid " and you'll get the tone I'm trying to go for.

some words I've mulled over for possibilities (and not sure of the translations/spelling please forgive my ignorance)

caro-my dear(?)
tresorino-little treasure
dolce mio-my sweet(?)

in addition to that, research seems to indicate that Italian pet names can be completely made up as well and I've also taken in consideration the fact that the region he hails from may have even more variations/independent terms to play with (he's Sardinian although this may change the more I work out his character) lieu of that information any other suggestions of names I could use? either in Italian or heck maybe even Sardinian for a little variety?

thanks in advance

I should know some but I don't actually (shame!) - just noting that it's "tesorino" not "tresorino."

ah beg pardon thank you for the correction :)

Cara mia = "my dear" in the feminine form -- addressing a man, one would use caro mio. Don't forget that Italian is a gendered language.

yes my bad :) In that sense would it be dolce mia then? (if that is a legit endearment I am a bit leery)

Alas, all I know about Italian comes from a passing knowledge of opera, so I'm not sure if that one's feasible or not.

Edited at 2009-04-13 10:35 pm (UTC)

If you don't get lucky here, try multilingual.

thank you I will bookmark that for future reference :)

My nonna used to call me 'amore mia' which is 'my love'.

I am derailing this topic of discussion to declare my love for your icon.

hahah XD derailment off the port bow. I think I shall be buried with this icon. If that is possible :) a friend made it for me for my b-day

Just noting that I think that I've never heard an Italian person use the diminutive "tesorino", and suspect it's probably pretty cutesy and OTT. On the other hand, people throw "tesoro" around like nobody's business - it strikes me as very comparable with "honey". When I was in Italy, my landlady and my Italian teacher used to call me that probably several times in the course of any meeting I ever had with them. I'm in the UK now and the man who runs the Italian cafe across the street tends to call me "tesoro" too.

My teacher also used to call me "cara" a lot too. Just "cara" on its own, especially when I'd indicated I wanted to ask a question. "Dimmi, cara." (Tell me, dear.)

I possibly have nothing constructive to add but I just wanted to say that I read your comment and giggle hard, because it's totally true. Me myself, I throw around 'tesoro's and 'cara's like nobody's business XD.

Oh, yes, 'tesorino', 'carina', and 'tesoruccio' could be used as the OP stated. They are cutesy diminutives that would sound perfectly natural if used with a baby or a pet, but if said in the right (snarky, sarcastic, mean) tone, they would turn into insults. I mean, I could just say 'tesoruccio' to somebody and with the right inflection I could have it sound as if I had said 'you idiot'.


Hee! I rather miss beginning every day knowing I was likely to get called "tesoro" about eighty times in the course of it. I could just go to the cafe more I suppose, but it's not quite the same when we're both making a thing of "Now we're speaking Italian."

ah that's all some really great info...hits right on where I was running into the problems of using words in context. many thanks to both of you!:)

in general, i would agree with the above comments concerning 'tesoro' and 'cara.' however, depending on how accurate you wish to be, if this guy's italian-american, he's going to be speaking the language of his grandmother, that is, some sardinian dialect [even today there really isn't a standardized version of sardo]. furthermore, if this is in the 1930s, italy hasn't been unified for very long, so no matter where your character ends up hailing from, he'll probably use a localized version thereof [ie, if he's from the south, he'd more likely say 'tesoru' than 'tesoro.'] if your guy's educated, then sure he'll speak something closer to standard italian, but he'd still probably use local color when using terms of endearment.

hm so most likely my best bet would be to google some sardinian-english it common then for southern speakers to use the " u " in place of an " o " at the end of certain words or is it just for that word in particular?

very generally speaking, southern dialects tend to end words with 'u' instead of 'o.' though as the user below pointed out, sardo is generally listed as a completely separate romance language, and is basically considered its own region of italy. however, some of the main dialects do say 'tesoru' instead of 'tesoro'. . .though to be honest, since there are other words for it, that might be a borrowing from later than 1930. [this just comes from looking at an italian/sardo dictionary].

however, if you're set on accuracy and la sardegna, i DO happen to have a professor who's sardinian, so i could as him about it next time i have class.

Oh that would be grand thank you :) I greatly appreciate it

okay, so had class this morning, and this is the deal:

apparently, sardinians didn't really go for american whilst emigrating. they tended to go to australia or germany, for example. so your point of reference would be extremely small. also, the dialects are different enough that you would have to choose one, and he confirmed that almost no one spoke 'italian' as well. one of my other professors was actually there at the time, and he's a linguist and specializes in the dialects of italy, and when i asked about sort of terms of endearment for a woman with whom the man wasn't in a relationship, they both kind of gave me this look like ""

so it seems to me that you might be better off choosing a character from the mainland, but my professor did say that if he could get more details he'd certainly be willing to discuss something suitable for your character.

Heh probably have enough info here to make a whole new post! I do appreciate your professors taking the time to provide me with all of this information though, please tell them thank you :) I'll email you and see if I can provide some more details

The language Sardinians speak at home is radically different from standard Italian; Italian is still taught in Sardinian schools as a foreign language. So a Sardinian-American who used Italian endearments could only be doing so in a spirit of parody, or a pretence of being a "Latin lover", or something like that - they would not come naturally to him.

hmm I had a feeling that was the case. So say the girl is Italian-American from ahhh mainland regions, Milan, Genoa or something like that. Would it then make sense for him to every once ina while toss a couple of Italian endearments her way as a underhanded way of mocking/poking fun where she's from? sort of like " how about I say it in YOUR language so you can understand it eh? " sort of mode of thinking?

I'll see if I can research some more along the lines of the Sardinian language. Do you have any sites to recommend?

You can find quite a few links here:

The Italian stereotype of a Sardinian is of a short, dark, stocky-but-chronically-underfed, taciturn, hard-as-nails peasant - as far from the "Latin lover" type, murmuring sweet nothings in a girl's ears, as you can imagine. I'm sure the Sard dialect does actually contain endearments, but I can't see your character using them in the kind of relationship you describe, unless he is deliberately trying to mystify her.

that is a glorious amount of information. Thank you thank you thank you! :D

Hi there! I'm a native speaker of Italian and have live in northern Italy all my life. I know many dialects as well as the national language, so I hope I can help you clarify some points.

1- In the 1930s, any Italian man would have called a woman 'signorina' (miss/lady), as it was almost impossible (and frowned upon by society) for two people who were not married to be on first name terms ('io-tu') with each other. Most times, even married couples addressed each other with 'voi' to maintain some sort of dignified distance. The parent/child relationship was similar: children had to show respect and 'dare dei voi' to their parents and vice versa.

2- If you're writing a hard-boiled noir, things can be a little different, but keep in mind that this genre was typically American and was therefore 'imported' in Italy later on. These movies were translated so that the Italian audience could understand them, but the translations were quite literal, and you can easily understand that the source language for terms of endearment like 'pupa'/'bambola' (doll), 'dolcezza' (honey) or 'bellezza' (beautiful) is American English. No-one in Italy would have dreamt of ever calling someone like this in real life!

3- I don't know what kind of story you're writing or whether you need any other assistance, but feel free to let me know if I can help you in any other way. :)

Oh that's great info actually thank you! I will definitely do so. If it helps, I'm thinking about making him a second generation emigrant who may have grown up in American culture and therefore would have a lot of that influencing his manners and words :) so number 2 would probably be more applicable. Would it make sense then for him to be formal at the beginning of their relationship and use " signorina " and then as they become more friendly with each other that he'd begin to use more casual names for her? and if she was about ten twenty years younger than him, could I get away with him calling her the equivalent of " kid " or " girlie "?

also do you know anything about Sardinian dialect, possibly from the regions around Caligari and if there are any sort of similar terms in that language that he'd throw around?

do you guys know what "chicha" means? its probably not spelled like that but thats what it sounds like. or "cheecha"?
i have close italian friends and they call me that sometimes
please help:]

You may be talking about the Spanish word "Chica"? It means "girl". Hope this helped :)