Do you have a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend and want to take it to the next level by calling them by a sweet, cute nickname? If you’re stuck on what to call your lover in Japanese, this is the guide for you!
Terms of endearment work uniquely in Japan because of its formal and introverted culture. It gets a little tougher to make things affectionate or cutesy. But never fear! Here are a few cute nicknames and how to use them.
Do Japanese people use nicknames?
Yes, they do! But they are rarely used in daily life. Also, Japanese nicknames don’t work the same way English or other Western nicknames do.
Since Japanese is a very formal language, many words sound ‘distant’ from the speaker or receiver. Their culture is also reserved. When it comes to expressing emotions, Japanese people tend to be implicit rather than direct.
Hierarchy is also a big cultural factor. At the first stages of getting to know someone, Japanese people typically address each other by their surnames, usually adding the honorific suffix -san (～さん) to be polite.
When they grow closer as friends, they may feel comfortable enough to address each other by their first name. This is already intimate enough for many!
Terms of endearment like ‘babe’ or ‘honey bunch’ aren’t used in Japan, but nicknames are!
The word aishou (愛称 / あいしょう) means ‘pet name’ and adana (あだ名 / あだな) means ‘nickname’. These can range from affectionate and cute, to funny or even corny.
There are three common ways of making a nickname in Japan.
Using suffixes and diminutives
This is probably the most popular way to create nicknames. When you are on a first-name basis, you can shorten their name and add a suffix of your choice.
For example, Yuuko can be shortened to Yuu-chan (ゆうちゃん), where a syllable is extended (ー). Meanwhile, Takumi can be shortened to Takkun (たっくん), with a small tsu (っ) inserted between the syllables.
The most common informal suffixes are-chan (〜ちゃん) and -kun (〜くん). Take note that these are appropriate only for people you are close with!
- -Chan is used for babies, children, young ladies you are close with, pet animals, and even your grandma! Between couples, -chan can be used to refer to girlfriends.
- -Kun is more masculine and is best suited for young boys and men. This is also used to refer to someone who is of lower status than you, like a subordinate at work or apprentice. Girlfriends also use -kun as a term of endearment for their boyfriend.
There are also other fun, playful suffixes like:
- -rin (～りん)
- -tan (～たん)
- -chi (～ち)
- -non (～のん)
Again, these are only appropriate for close friends, your boyfriend, or girlfriend. A good example is the cute nickname ‘Kanchi’, which the character Rika (from 1991 dorama ‘Tokyo Love Story’) gave her boyfriend, Kanji!
Young children are also given nicknames with -chan, -kun and other cutesy suffixes. Celebrities, too! Like Shokotan for singer Shoko Nakagawa. Sometimes, fans use both their first and last names, like KimuTaku for actor Takuya Kimura.
Characteristics of a person
Here’s a fun way to call your friends! Nicknames can also be created by highlighting certain characteristics of a person. For example, if their hair is dyed pink or red, resembling a strawberry, then they can be Ichigo-chan or Ichigo-kun (Strawberry).
Some groups of friends can use words like baka (バカ) for ‘stupid’ or dassei (だっせー) for ‘uncool’ affectionately. These can be associated with funny or embarrassing events that they experienced and their friends decided to call them such because of it.
Feeling pun-ny? This can be done by substituting a kanji for another one that sounds similar or has the same meaning.
Video games are a good place to look for examples. The character Phoenix Wright from ‘Ace Attorney’ is named Ryuuichi Naruhodou (成歩堂龍一 / りゅういちなるほどう) in Japanese. It is a known pun on the word naruhodo (成程 / なるほど) meaning ‘I see’ or ‘That’s right’!
What to call your lover in Japanese?
Daarin is the best way to say ‘my darling’ in Japanese. Since the Japanese language doesn’t really have any native terms of endearment, they have borrowed this from English!
Daarin is a gender-neutral term of endearment, so both boyfriends and girlfriends can call each other this way. Married couples also use this as a way to affectionately call their spouses!
Another loan word from English, hanii stands for ‘honey’. This is also gender-neutral, so couples can use it regardless of their sex. It can be a bit embarrassing to use in public, even for husbands and wives. It’s a bit like PDA to call someone hanii around others!
Anata means ‘you’ in Japanese. Pretty sure you’ve heard that it is considered rude to use it with people you are not close with. That is not the case between couples, though!
Though this is more common among older generations, anata is a common term of endearment for wives to call their husbands. Sometimes, the speaker shortens it to anta (あんた). It can also be written with different kanji, depending on who you are referring to.
‘You’ in this sense is very intimate, especially in a romantic relationship. There are similar words like kimi (君 / きみ) and omae (お前 / おまえ). Both are used by males to refer to their female partner, and are more common among older generations. This is less preferred nowadays because of its sexist nuance.
However, if you listen to a lot of Japanese love songs, kimi and omae are used in romantic lines to convey things along the lines of ‘my love’!
Terms of endearment in Japanese
As we know by now, Japanese people don’t call their lovers ‘honey pie’, ‘sugar muffin’, or ‘butter ball’. Though Japanese terms of endearment are pretty limited, you can express a high level of intimacy by calling someone by their first name or nickname.
Of course, no couple goes without a couple of embarrassing pet names when they’re alone.
This video from popular YouTubers Rachel and Jun can give you extra insight about nicknames in Japan!
Want to learn more Japanese to talk to your Japanese friends or daarin? Our recommended language course is JapanesePod101! You can take basic lessons for free, or access 1000s of lessons in the archives from just $4/month. They even have a 73-lesson pathway called ‘Talking With Your Japanese Partner‘! 😍
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Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.