What fun it was to find terms of endearment used in Shakespeare’s time, ones that I can also use in my writing. A few of these terms continue today.
Lambkin is used lovingly to refer to a person who is exceptionally sweet, young and innocent. It’s the ultimate warm and fuzzy pet name. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first two recorded citations of lambkin to Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V, both from 1600. In Henry IV, Part 2 Pistol breaks the news of the king’s death with the following line: “Sir John, thy tender lambkin now is king.”
Chuck is the archaic term of endearment that first appeared in Shakespeare’s time. Meaning roughly “my love,” this nickname was applied to husbands in addition to wives, children, and friends. In Love’s Labour Lost, Shakespeare wrote: “Sweet chucks / beat not the bones of the buried.”
Shakespeare was fond of the term bawcock, meaning “a fine fellow.” It comes to English directly from the French beau coc referring to “a handsome rooster.” In Henry V the comical character Pistol uses the term bawcock twice, once in conversation with the king: “The King’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold…”
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare employs the term of endearment duck, meaning “dear” or “darling.” The character Nick Bottom utters “O dainty duck, o deare!” when he takes on the role of the lover Pyramus in the play, to entertain the Duke of Athens, his betrothed and the rest of their party. The term duck sometimes takes on the diminutive suffix -y to form ducky.
Romeo & Juliet contains the first recorded use of ladybird in English. The nurse calls out to find Juliet: “What lamb, what ladie bird… Where’s this girle!” The term of endearment refers to a close female friend or sweetheart. Within the next 100 years, ladybird took on the sense of “butterfly” and “ladybug.” The latter is still used today. Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of the 36th American president Lyndon B. Johnson, joined Juliet among the women given this affectionate label.
People have been calling their sweethearts and dearest friends honey since Shakespeare’s time. The term honey, referring to the sweet produced by bees, likely got its name from its tawny color. It wasn’t until the mid-1500s that honey became used as a form of address. This sense of honey has stuck, and it’s still used with affection today.