The discovery of pet names must be as old as the human civilization. (Of course no googling was done on this! - this can be another heavy duty exercise in itself). No, it is not the name of a pet as one would automatically assume, rather, those sweet somethings that are used on unsuspecting humans who have no way of escaping once the term is carved out of nowhere.
The root cause for converting/shortening names or rechristening of people can be many - affection, or lack of it, ease of use, fad (which has lasted generations!), social obligations (check with Bengalis or Punjabis for this!) or just-for-the-heck of-it. Whatever be the case, I have always been fascinated (partly because I never had one) by those ingenious minds who coin these names. I mean one does have to have a streak of genius/madness to come up with names that sound like some incoherent chatter of monkeys - tibbi, chichi, peekaachoo ... Haa!! what not!
It would be considered a social offense if you do not have a pet name in places inhabited by 'ami tumi's and ' Oye chakkde phatte's (Oh! you don’t have a pet name? - you poor thing, looks like your mommie/daddy doesn’t love you) All those chintu, mintu, boskey, babbloo, lolo, molus of the alternate identity world would be genuinely surprised about the lack of "cute" little words that emphasize the affection hoarded on one's offspring. In South Indian families, I have noticed a relatively lower prevalence of pet names that extend into one’s life to become official names (Pinki, Dabboo or something similar). It could be that I have met quite a small sample of the above mentioned population but that has convinced me to go ahead with the assumption. You are welcome to prove me wrong. :)
Of course, one must not I repeat, not confuse my ramblings as dislike towards these names. On the contrary, they have been a source of inspiration to me – to try creating new words of my own; mind you it’s quite a challenge to get an absolutely meaningless word to sound sweet/romantic/affectionate/disgust – the entire range; just right enough to suit the mood and the occasion.
These small little words have the habit of causing devastating effects – try calling out your six feet tall brother’s pet name “Putta” (meaning small/tiny in Kannada) when he is out playing cricket with his friends and see his reaction; rather, don’t wait for the aftermath action. Or, the time when there is an office conference call scheduled to be taken from home and your mom picks up the phone only to yell “Chinnuuu….phone for you….” to the awaiting phirang world.
On a serious note, I find using customized names to be very very enchanting – as long as they are done in private. Who wouldn’t turn into defenseless blob of butter on hearing his/her sweetheart’s voice cooing the magic word? (Honeybun, sugarplum, sweetie pie – for those with epicurean orientation; contrasting with others such as baby, love, sweetheart, melody, whatever whatever…) The warmth of love overflows when parents call out their sons/daughters (beta, naanna, babu, putti, chinni, chitti, bangaari, muddu, kanna, etc etc – forgive me for relative lack of knowledge in this namology domain of our northern counterparts)
So, I wouldn’t dare say what’s in a name – well, so much of course!