You can’t be in a Spanish-speaking place long before you realize that greetings, good-byes, and addressing people takes on a whole new level. In Perú, you kiss to greet and meet and farewell. You never leave a party without saying good-bye to everyone single person, and “hola” really isn’t a sufficient way to say hello. Better to include a “buenos días” or “cómo está” if possible. And, the more you love a person, the less you say their name. Terms of endearment are huge in Hispanic countries, and a big part of understanding their cultures.
In Spanish, it’s very common to address a person by who they are in relation to you. Students will call their teachers “profesora” or just “profe,” and friends would greet each other as “hola, amiga!” (hi, friend!). The rule seems to be, use the person’s title as much as possible. This was a lifesaver to me when I was culture-shocked and not speaking Spanish at all yet, and had no idea what anyone’s name was. All the people at our huge church constantly greeted me, and I would resort to “buenas tardes, hermano/a” (good afternoon, brother/sister) every. single. time. Very helpful.
Especially in romantic relationships, you rarely address your partner using actual names. That’s saved for moments when you are trying to get your special someone’s attention in a roomful of other people who get called “amorcito” as well. To actually address each other, you choose from a plethora of terms of endearment and add an –ito or –ita if at all possible. Affection is important, and I remember an older lady bragging to me that she and her husband, in their 40 years of marriage, were so in love they had never addressed each other by name.
When addressing your children, it’s more similar to English (possibly because you might have multiple children): names are used, but also often replaced with a term like “cariño” (dear). What’s different when addressing people in Spanish is that you actually use their title — “tía” (aunt), “hijito” (little son), “profe” (teacher), or “compañero” (too hard to translate)– without using their name at all.
I’ve pulled together common terms of endearment for both romantic couples and for sons/daughters. Any Spanish-speaker will probably notice the glaring omissions: gordo/a (fatty?), “flaco/a” (skinny person), viejo/a” (old person), and “negro/a” (dark person?). These are very common, and though they translate negatively, they’re meant extremely affectionately. One of those lost-in-translation sort of things. So here you are! I know I missed some, so please let me know what I should have included!
Terms of Endearment for children/sons/daughters:
Terms of Endearment for romantic couples:
If you are looking for more Valentine’s Day / Día de San Valentín / Día de los Enamorados / Día del Amor y Amistad things in Spanish, check out my Pinterest board!