If you want to learn Italian, then you must know it’s a language full of passion and love. So why not learn some Italian terms of endearment?
Think about it: how strange would it be if you and your loved ones only called each other by your names and never used nicknames or pet names? Usually, that isn’t a good sign. Problemi in paradiso (“trouble in paradise”), Italians would say.
But it’s not only that. For the most part, Italians are a warm community. They love to share their affection for family members and friends, and goodness is deeply rooted in their culture.
There are many nomignoli (“nicknames”) for the people you appreciate or love. From the quirky food references – which never fail to come up in Italian conversations – to adding diminutives to first names, there are plenty of funny oddities.
Stick around until the end, because I will show you how to create your own DIY Italian nicknames!
So, let’s look at the most common terms of endearment used for friends, family members, children, and lovers.
There are two ways that Italians share their affection: food and words.
Now, I’m not going to deep-dive into the art of baking love into every Italian dish – that’s not my specialty! But, I can teach you food-related nicknames and how to communicate your love in Italian through language.
(Have a photo of me in front of the Coliseum as proof that I am qualified to help you learn Italian.)
There are many ways to say “term of endearment” in Italian. The most literal translation is termino affettuoso, but soprannome, nomignolo, and vezzeggiativo are the most common ones.
All three words mean “nickname”, but soprannome is the most formal one and usually refers to abbreviated names, nomignolo would be “pet name”, and vezzeggiativo often describes diminutive nicknames.
Just like in English, the tone, setting, and person who uses the nickname all determine whether the term is used genuinely, as mockery, or, say, as an unpleasant catcall. It’s always a good idea to make sure that the person appreciates the nickname you have given them before you start using it.
Now, andiamo al succo (“let’s get to the meat”).
English speakers might call their friends “pal”, “buddy”, “mate” or “dude”, but these nicknames don’t really have Italian equivalents. If you dig into the Italian language, you might learn about compa, which is short for compagno and can be translated as “buddy”, and compare (“homie”). But the first is rather obsolete and the second is old-fashioned.
Instead, Italians prefer to address each other as if they were part of a big family.
Frequently, you will hear close friends calling each other fratello (“brother”) and sorella (“sister”). Cugino (masculine version of “cousin”) and cugina (feminine version of “cousin”) are generally used with less intimate friends.
Fun fact: Italians have dubbed the French people i cugini francesi (“our cousins, the French”), a friendlier version of i vicini Francesi (“our neighbors, the French”).
Other Italian nicknames for friends include:
- Bello/a – “beautiful”
- Mitico/a (“legendary”),
- simply… surnames!
You know how athletes have their last name stamped on the back of their t-shirts? Italians are big fans of soccer and sports in general, so they’ve taken the habit of calling their friends by their surnames like they do with sports players.
Attributing nicknames to your friends based on their qualities or endearing flaws is also common. For example, you could call your smart best friend cervellone/a (“big brain”) or your chatty best friend chiacchierone/a (“chatterbox”).
(Be careful, though, because both could be offensive depending on your tone and the situation.)
What if you want to call your whole friend group at the same time? Raga’ (“guys”) is both an interjection and a group nickname that is basically the abbreviation of ragazzi (“guys”).
Even if there’s less variety to choose from than in English, terms of endearment for family members are commonly used in Italian.
- mamma – “mom”
- mammina – “mommy” (to a child usually under the age of 10)
- papi – “dad”
- papino – “daddy”
- bimbo/a/i – “kid/s”
- nipotino/a/i – “little grandchild/ren” (only when referred to as grandchildren, obviously)
- figliolo/a/i – “sons/daughters” in old-fashioned Italian, but also used for grandchildren nowadays
Standard terms of endearment for other members of the family:
- nonna (“grandmother”) → nonnina (“grandma”)
- nonno (“grandfather”) → nonnino (“grandpa”)
- tata or tatina (“nanny”) – used for grandmothers and aunts
- zia (“aunt”) → zietta (“auntie”)
- zio (“uncle”) → zietto
- cugina (feminine for “cousin”) → cuginetta (implies that the cousin is younger than you)
- cugino (masculine for “cousin”) → cuginetto (implies that the cousin is younger than you)
Pet names for siblings always tend to be more creative and humorous than any others. While there’s no “official” Italian term of endearment used among brothers and sisters, I have heard these ones:
- Pulce – “flea”
- Puffo – “Smurf” (masculine)
- Puffetta – “Smurfette” (feminine)
- Batuffolo – “dumpling”
There are no Italian nicknames for mothers-in-law, but complimenting their cooking will always secure you a place in their good graces – and the best spot around the table, right next to the polpette (“meatballs”).
Children’s pet names are arguably the most common terms of endearment in Italian, and they can be divided into categories depending on their frequency and meaning.
There are a few very common nomignoli for children. These are appropriately used not only by family members and friends, but also by adults who might not know the child’s name, such as store clerks or nurses.
- Bimbo/a – “kiddo”
- Gioia – “joy”, a personal favorite of all nonne and tate
- Stella and its diminutive stellina – “star” and “little star”
- Caro/a – “dear”
- Tesoro – “treasure”
- Signorino and signorina – “young man” and “young lady”. The first is used for boys who are 10 or under while the second also means “miss”, so it is used for girls of any age.
Apart from these, nicknames for children are usually reserved for family members and, occasionally, family friends.
Italians love terms of endearment that are literally pet names. They use them regularly with their bimbi, and the most common are:
- Papera – “duck”, only used for girls
- Paperotto/a – “little duck”. The Italian suffix -otto/a is tricky to translate into English, but it basically means that something is both small and big at the same time – a big small thing – and makes the moniker sweeter with a tinge of humour.
- Passerotto/a – “sparrow”, usually exclusive to girls
- Topolino/a – “little mouse”. Funny enough, Topolino is also the name that Italians have used for Mickey Mouse since the character’s creation.
- Cucciolo/a – “baby animal”, usually meant as “puppy”
- Cucciolotto/a – “little puppy”
It’s funny for children to be nicknamed after their favorite food. The most used children pet names inspired by food in Italian include:
- Patata – “potato”, only used for girls
- Patatino/a – “little potato” or “french fry”
- Fragola – “strawberry”
- Caramellino – “butterscotch”
If none of the terms above caught your attention, then try one of these ones:
- Cielo – “sky”
- Sole – “sun”
- Angioletto – “little angel”
- Cocco/a – “sweetie”. Cocca di mamma means “Mommy’s girl”, cocco di papà is “Daddy’s boy”.
- Coccolona – “cuddly”
- Donnina – “little woman”
- Ometto – “little man”
- Mimmo/a – Tuscan spin of bambino
- Trottolino/a – “little spinning top”
- Occhioni – “big eyes”
- Principessa – “princess”
- Bambolotta – “little doll”
- Piccolino/a – “little-little one”
- Piccino/a – “tiny”
Ah, here we go.
Romantic relationships are the perfect setting for what Italians humorously call parole sdolcinate (“sappy words”).
(Let me tell you a secret: despite making fun of them, Italians secretly love these sappy nicknames.)
Italian terms of endearment for lovers include some of those used for children, such as tesoro and piccolina, but many others are only used in a romantic and intimate context.
The word lover covers two meanings in English: either someone who is in love or whom you are in love with, or, well… a lover in an intimate way.
In Italian, innamorato/a describes the first type of lover, while amante stands for the second. To avoid getting confused and saying what you shouldn’t, you can refer to your significant other as your persona amata (“loved one”).
Or you could simply name the stage of your relationship.
There are two main ways to say “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” in Italian: ragazzo/a or fidanzato/a. The former is used by young couples, usually when they are dating, while the latter is for serious relationships and also means fiance.
It’s between marito (“husband”) and moglie (“wife”) that terms of endearment get more refined and accurate. After a long time living together, you’re bound to know your other half better than anyone else.
If you call your daughter principessa, you could think about completing the royal family by dubbing your husband re (“king”) or your wife regina (“queen”).
Amore is the Italian word for “love”, so “my love” is amore mio.
There’s also another way to use amore and make it “cuter”, by adding the suffix -ino to it: amorino (“little love”).
There are only a few more tender nicknames than calling your other half cuore mio (“my heart”), but perhaps none of them are as romantic.
What a wonderful thing to call someone your beloved! In Italian, you say mio amato for men and mia amata for women.
When talking about your beloved with someone else, you can refer to them as il mio lui (literally “my him”) if he is a man, and la mia lei (literally “my her”) if she is a woman. This is a cute way to say that in the sea of other men and women, your partner is the only one who belongs with you.
You could also call them la mia metà (“my other half”) or dolce metà (loosely translated as “significant other”, literally “sweet half”).
If Bruno Mars sang in Italian, then the title of one of his songs would actually mean “darling”. In fact, tesoro, literally translated as “treasure” in English, is the equivalent of “darling” in Italian.
You could make the word even more sdolcinato by complementing it with the suffix -ino. Tesorino is a good equivalent for “sweetheart”, “honey”, or “cutie”.
How do you say “sweetheart” in Italian? That is a very good question, mostly because there is no exact Italian word for “sweetheart”. You could say dolcezza, meaning “sweetness”, to a woman, or tesoro to a man.
Not everyone can find their anima gemella (“soulmate”, literally “twin soul”), but those who do sono molto fortunati (“are very lucky”).
The Italian word for “dear” is caro/a. Funny enough, it also means “expensive”, but who wouldn’t consider their dear ones to be worth all the money in the world?
By adding mio or mia after caro/a, you will get the Italian equivalent of “my dear”: caro mio/cara mia.
From what we’ve seen so far, adding the suffix -ino/a acts as a diminutive in Italian. However, -ino/a is sometimes used to create brand new words. You see, carino/a does not mean “a little expensive”, but “cute”!
Bello/a means beautiful in Italian, and bellissimo/a is the Italian word for “gorgeous”. It’s perfect paired with a blown kiss to your partner.
There are two ways to say “I love you” in Italian: ti amo and ti voglio bene.
Ti amo is rarely used because it expresses the burning passion of intimate love and is appropriate only in certain moments of a romantic relationship.
On the other hand, you will often hear ti voglio bene (literally “I wish you well”) sprinkled here and there. Ti voglio bene is the “I love you” for friends and family members – also regularly used in relationships – which expresses warmth, tenderness, and care.
Using ti voglio bene does not mean that you love the person less than if you told them ti amo, its connotation is just more affectionate than romantic.
Affetto is the Italian word for “affection”, affettuoso/a means “affectionate”, and the phrase “to be affectionate” is essere affettuoso/a.
As essere affettuoso/a includes the verb essere (“to be”), the phrase changes depending on the subject:
- (Io) sono affettuoso/a → “I am affectionate”
- (Tu) sei affettuoso/a → “you are affectionate” (singular)
- (Lui/lei) è affettuoso/a → “he/she is affectionate”
- (Noi) siamo affettuosi/e → “we are affectionate”
- (Voi) siete affettuosi/e → “you are affectionate” (plural)
- (Loro) sono affettuosi/e → “they are affectionate”
Possibilities are endless when it comes to sweet names for your love. Some make no sense and are endearingly childish, like ciccino or pucci, and others are a bit eccentric.
Here are some fun ones:
- Polpetto/a – “meatball”
- Orsacchiotto – “teddy bear”
- Bambola – “doll”
- Zuccherino – “little sugar”
- Manina – “little hand”
- Bacino – “little kiss”
Learning Italian? Listen to the experience of another learner and take some notes!
Pet names are sweet, but you can impress everyone and upgrade your ability to share your affection in Italian by learning specific phrases.
Here are a few of the most common ones:
- Luce dei miei occhi – “Apple of my eye”, literally “light of my eyes”
- Luce della mia vita – “Light of my life”
- Sei un raggio di sole – “You are a ray of sunshine”
- Sei la persona a cui tengo di più – “You’re the person I care the most about”
- Sei la miglior cosa che mi sia capitata – “You’re the best thing that happened to me”
- Sei la ragione di ogni mio sorriso – “You’re the reason for all my smiles”
- Sei il mio mondo/universo – “You’re my world/universe”
- Sei il mio tutto – “You’re my everything”
It’s nice to get a few ideas to get you started, but I think we can agree on this: nicknames are much better when they’re su misura (“tailor-made”)!
If you feel like none of the terms of endearment mentioned in this post fit the people you care about, create a nomignoli yourself!
When it comes to making a person you appreciate stand out, imagination has no boundaries.
What makes a good term of endearment in any language?
Inside jokes are a good starting point, and anything you might find in the candy and pastry aisles in the supermarket will do more than fine. To make up the best parole sdolcinate, make it a funny nickname that only you and the person it’s for will understand.
Actually, any type of food could become a term of endearment: formaggino (“little cheese”) is an amusing nickname for a partner, but it’s quite cheesy, if you ask me.
Any animals you haven’t seen in the lists above? No worries, if you add a suffix to the word, it’ll create the perfect new nickname.
- Scimmietta – “little monkey”
- Pesciolino – “little fish”
The suffix -ino/a is the most common Italian diminutive suffix, but it is not the only one. You can try one of these as well:
- -etto/a as in zietta – an alternative to -ino/a
- -otto/a as in paperotta – a mix of -etto/a and the augmentative -one/a
- -uccio/a as in amoruccio – small and slightly insulting in certain cases, it’s often used to add a pinch of mocking tone to the word
What’s tricky with Italian diminutive suffixes is there’s no set rule for when to use them. You just learn through practice and dedicated listening.
Sometimes, all suffixes can be used with the same word. Other times, you’ll really want to be careful with how you use them.
For example, another term of endearment for your nonna (“grandmother”) and nonno (“grandfather”) could be nonnetta and nonnetto, but it would depend on the region. In some places, nonnetto/a might come across as affectionate while in others it would mean “old man/woman”.
As always with language learning, it is good to get the hang of the local sayings before throwing around words you’re not too sure of. Asking natives is always a wise choice if you want to improve your skills.
Top tip: if you are unsure how to pronounce Italian sounds or words, our native Italian team member Alice shot a video that you might want to have a look at:
There’s also an article that goes with it, if you prefer reading!
Words that already constitute terms of endearment can be strengthened if you complement them with mio/a (“my”) or caro/a (“dear”).
- Tesoro mio – “my treasure”
- Piccola mia – “my little one”
- Caro amico – “dear friend”
Italians love to abbreviate names and words to create nicknames, of which raga’ is an example.
As you know, last names are popular nickname material, and it’s common among youth to shorten them.
- Martinelli becomes Mart or Marti
- Messina becomes Mess
Sometimes even nicknames can be abbreviated. Cioccolatino, which is perhaps too much of a mouthful to really be a nickname, can become cicchi.
Italians truly appreciate culture, and they often turn to foreign languages to enrich their own. When it comes to nicknames, their favorite source is… English!
They might shorten Michele to “Mike”, or Massimo to “Max”. Their tall friend whose name is Roberto might be their “big Robert”. They also might fish for monikers in Hollywood successes from the 50s and call their friend Francesca “Frenchie”, as a tribute to the movie Grease.
You can take advantage of this to create nicknames that will be considered very cool!
Now that you know a ton of Italian terms of endearment, how will you communicate your affection in Italian? Will you call your friend mitica or your child patatino? Or will you cook some manicaretti for your dolce metà?