1. If you’re a knight-errant: DULCINEA
If you wish to express that your devotion to your beloved is so strong that you’d fend off the most treacherous of windmills to defend her honor, consider addressing your sweetie as dulcinea. This is the name that Don Quixote bestowed on the object of his affections in Cervantes’s masterwork from 1605. The name is an embellishment of the Spanish word dulce meaning “sweet” and is used to mean “sweetheart” or “ladylove.”
2. If you’re in it for the long haul: TURTLEDOVE
Owing to its tendency to form strong, affectionate bonds in pairs, the turtledove has long been a symbol of love and devotion in literature. This explains why, in addition to referring to a bird with a long, graduated tail and soft, cooing call, the word turtledove can refer to a sweetheart or beloved mate. James Joyce used turtledove as a verb (“Yea, turtledove her”) in Ulysses to mean “to show affection as a turtledove for its mate.”
3. If your relationship is still ambiguous: AMORET
This wonderfully versatile term is like the Swiss army knife of the lexicon of love: amoret can refer to a sweetheart or amorous girl or woman, a love knot, a love song, or love glances. It’s the perfect word to use if you’d like to test the waters of referring to your crush with a pet name, but need some outs in case it’s not received as well as you’d hoped. The masculine equivalent of this term is amoretto, which has an additional sense of “a little cupid.”
4. If your love is ironic: BULLY
Nowadays, this term conjures a quarrelsome and overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates people, not exactly the personality profile one hopes to be likened to on Valentine’s Day. But when this term first entered English in the mid-1500s, it did so as a gender-neutral term for “sweetheart” or “darling.” It can be traced back to the Dutch boel meaning “lover” and “brother.” Be prepared to explain this when you offer this antiquated pet name over a candlelit dinner.
5. If your beloved is a veggie enthusiast: CABBAGE
Are sweetie and honey too saccharine for your tastes? Take heed: a more nutritious option is out there. In addition to referring to the leafy green, the word cabbage can be used to mean “sweetheart “or “darling.” This usage arose in the late 1700s just before the less flattering sense of “a dull-witted or spiritless person” emerged. Hopefully your loved one is not familiar with the latter sense.
6. If you’re a frontiersman or frontierswoman: HUCKLEBERRY
In the mid-1800s, the word huckleberry began showing up in range of expressions, often paired with the word persimmon as in “huckleberry to your persimmon,” or “huckleberry over your persimmon.” Davy Crockett used this folksy combination to express that the task before him was a challenge: “But to do this, and write the warrants too, was at least a huckleberry over my persimmon.” Shortly thereafter the word huckleberry took on a sense of “sweetheart, friend, or partner.”
7. If your beloved is great at dinner parties: SQUIRE
This word first entered English as a term referring to a young man who served a knight and aspired to be one himself. Over the course of a few centuries, it picked up additional senses, including “a man who accompanies or escorts a woman,” and a verb sense of “to escort (a woman) as to a dance or social gathering.” The term comes from the Old French esquier meaning “shield carrier.”
8. If your love burns bright and eternal: INAMORATA
If the sight of your beloved inspires you to compose sonnets on the fly and gather wildflowers into precious posies for your beloved’s enjoyment, inamorata (or its masculine equivalent inamorato) might be the pet name for you. Coming from the Italian innamorare meaning “to fall in love,” this mellifluous term is for the romantics who are unafraid to wear their heart on their sleeve.
Need more help writing the perfect valentine? Check out our infographic on love- and lovelorn-related terms that spiked in lookups last year.
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