Terms of endearment in the nineteenth century

Ana Revan is another student in the Late Modern English letters course. This is her first blogpost.

Nowadays we see people on TV use a wide range of pet-names for their loved ones, and we do the same ourselves in our personal lives, but what terms of endearment would have been used by Victorians?

One well-known Victorian couple, whose love endured in the face of adversity and whose love letters are readily available, are the Brownings: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and Robert Browning (1812-1889). About the language of love letters, and especially the Brownings’ love letters, has been written elsewhere on this blog.


Their love letters might contain a plethora of words used as terms of endearment, as pet-names. Therefore, I did a small a pilot study, searching a small corpus of the Browning love letters for words that, according to the OED, were used as terms of endearment in the nineteenth century: angel, baby, beloved, darling, dear, dearest, honey, heart, love, lover, precious, sweetheart, treasure.

I found only five different tokens: Elizabeth uses angel and dearest to address Robert, and Robert uses dearest, love, Beloved (note the capital letter to show that it is a form of address not unlike sweetheart), and dear Ba to address Elizabeth. Surprising, right?

It is remarkable that not only does Elizabeth use fewer words of endearment than Robert, but also that she uses them less frequently than her fiancée does. Considering the fact that Elizabeth was not only older than Robert but also an invalid, she might be exercising caution from a sense of insecurity.

Given the limited number of pet-names found, it would appear that Victorians were slightly more reserved in their use of terms of endearment than we are used to nowadays. However, this quest for pet-names was done on a very small scale, so perhaps research on a larger corpus into the vocabulary of love could be an interesting topic for a larger study.



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