Across the globe, it’s a widespread practice for parents to use affectionate terms when addressing their children. In fact, nicknames are frequently employed more often than the actual names within certain families! Italy is, of course, no different to any other country in the world, boasting numerous amusing and elaborate “nomignoli” or “soprannomi” for children.
Italian nicknames for children
The practice of bestowing nicknames in Italy has its roots in ancient times. Throughout history, these nicknames weren’t limited to just children; they were also exchanged among friends and family as a way to convey closeness, affection, and sometimes playful teasing. As time has passed, these names have undergone changes, with some gaining popularity while others have diminished. However, at their core, they continue to symbolise profound affection and the strong ties within families.
But this naturally leads to the question: what are the most common nicknames for children in Italy? Let’s uncover them together.
The word patatina actually means “little potato,” and it’s primarily used to describe baby girls who are slightly chubby, have remarkably soft cheeks, or possess a button-like nose. However, there isn’t always a specific reason for this choice. In fact, in many instances, it’s merely a nickname that resonates positively with one of the parents.
This is another example of a food-related nickname frequently used for children in Italy. The primary significance is “meatball,” and it’s perceived as endearing. Often, there isn’t a specific rationale for selecting this nickname. However, it’s particularly popular when referring to newborns or infants due to their petite size, which evokes the idea of something tender and round.
This is a highly amusing nickname for children that parents use when the child is constantly energetic and tirelessly active. The term translates to “spinning top,” aiming to capture the continuous and unceasing motion of this toy when it’s in action. You might hear parents saying, “The spinning top isn’t running out of energy today.“
Principessina / principino
In the eyes of their parents, every child is seen as a “little princess” (principessina) or a “little prince” (principino). These two nicknames are quite prevalent, and they’re also used by relatives or friends of the parents when the children are dressed up for a special event. At times, the term is employed when the children are somewhat spoiled, and in certain cases, it can even convey an air of being pampered and cherished.
“Little fish“: This nickname is extensively employed throughout the entire peninsula. In certain instances, the term can shift from being an affectionate term to an augmentative form by altering its suffix from -ino/a to -one/a. In this modified instance, pesciolone/a, which translates to “big fish,” represents its direct opposite. However, it’s uttered with a gentle tone, conveying warmth and affection.
Amore is probably one of the most frequently used nicknames in Italy. In English, it translates to “love,” and it’s closely associated with the deep emotions between a mother/father and their children. It’s almost always used with the possessive adjective “mio” (my), without which it becomes more connected to lovers who use the term amore to address each other.
This term directly translates to “treasure.” However, its true intention is to convey affection or love towards someone. In English, the more common equivalent would be “sweetheart.” When an Italian mother says, Sei il mio tesoro, it would be akin to saying “You’re my sweetheart.” Parents also use it to express the importance of their child to them, as in un vero tesoro (“a genuine treasure”).
Cucciolo, which translates to “puppy” or “cub” in English, is a nickname that many parents turn to when describing the delicacy and smallness of their children, especially during their early years of life. This is among the most endearing nicknames used, and often, when addressed by it, children blush out of shyness. You can also expect to hear the diminutive cucciolino/a and augmentative cucciolone/a.
“Little monkey,” frequently applied to baby girls, is used for those who enjoy climbing onto chairs, sofas, and tables. At times, when their climbing habits become so extreme that it exasperates their parents, they might also be referred to as babbuini (baboons). In this scenario, it takes on a slightly negative connotation, but still maintains an underlying tender tone.
If someone calls you an “earthquake,” it means you’re putting your best effort into turning the house upside-down. In Italy, parents use this term for kids who are full of energy and tend to break something wherever they go. Most of the time, people use it in specific moments when something happens, especially when a kid breaks something important that one of the parents loved dearly.
In contrast to the previous “earthquake,” there are children who are quiet and calm like little angels. In Italy, they say, hanno l’aureola, meaning that they have a halo. This word is used only in the masculine form since the feminine form doesn’t truly exist for it in Italian, although there are instances when it might be used.
The Italian language features a vast range of nicknames that have endured over time. These affectionate terms, often passed through generations, go beyond playfulness; they reflect Italy’s strong family values and culture of warmth, while reminding us that language carries love, history, and connection at its heart.
Did your parents or grandparents call you by any of these nicknames? Let us know in the comment section below.
Fabio Guarino is a Linguist and Language Specialist who operates as a Freelance Content Writer and SEO Marketer. He considers himself fortunate to be able to blend his passion for his native language, Italian, along with English and Spanish, with his career.