19 Adorable Korean Terms of Endearment and Nicknames for Your Loved Ones (Audio Included!)
Picking up your Korean partner or friend’s native language is a sure way to get closer to them—and that might include learning Korean terms of endearment!
Or, maybe you and your loved ones aren’t even remotely connected to Korea, but you just want to find some nicknames that are a little more unique than “cupcake,” “munchkin” or “sugar.”
Hey, maybe you’re just looking for something cute to call your puppy.
I’m not here to judge! I’m just here to teach you some adorable Korean nicknames.
- Terms of Endearment for Both Men and Women
- Terms of Endearment for Women
- Terms of Endearment for Men
- Korean Nicknames for Friends, Family and More
- Using Korean Terms of Endearment and Nicknames
Terms of Endearment for Both Men and Women
This first section includes terms of endearment that aren’t gender-specific. You can use them for a male or female flame. Just remember that these are highly informal utterances and expressions and are reserved only for your love:
애인 — Sweetheart
You’re hopelessly head-over-heels for this person, and you want the world to know that he or she is yours. You might want the world to hear you call him/her 애인, which is an equivalent of the English word “sweetheart.”
애 means “love” and 인 means “person.” Put them together? You get someone who makes your world go round.
A little caveat, though: the term is for unmarried couples. Don’t use this one to refer to your husband or wife. (They might think the two of you are having an affair on the side.)
Before we continue, let’s get some vocabulary terms straight. “Wife” in Korean is 아내 . “Husband,” on the other hand, is 남편 .
자기 — Honey
This one’s good for both married and unmarried couples, although more young people use it these days.
Speaking of “ja-gi,” the 90’s R&B mainstay Kim Jo Han has a song called “자기 (Honey),” which is a pretty catchy tune. You might want to check it out and move to the beat with your honey.
자기 is an interesting term because the word can also be used to refer to “oneself.” So it might speak to the level of closeness and intimacy you have with your partner. If the person is called your better “half,” then it’d be perfectly fine to use the same word you’d use to refer to yourself.
Adding 야 to the term so it becomes 자기야 makes it even more informal.
여보 — Darling
If you’ve been married for a while, like if you’re in your late 40’s and up, 여보 might be the term for you. For example, this is the affectionate term used by the Kim husband-and-wife tandem in the Netflix comedy series “Kim’s Convenience”—about a Korean-Canadian family who runs a convenience store in Toronto.
But really, older couples don’t have a patent on 여보. It can also be used by young couples in a flirty and cutesy way. With the right tone and attitude, you two lovebirds can be the envy of other couples.
Terms of Endearment for Women
If you’re a guy looking for nicknames to call your sweet and pretty SO, here are some Korean terms of endearment you might use:
여자친구 — Girlfriend
It’s not really a nickname, but just in case you wanted to know the Korean word for “girlfriend,” here it is.
It’s the combination of 여자 which means woman, and 친구 which means friend.
For a woman who’s really just a friend, you might use 여자 사람 친구 , which is literally translated as “female person friend.”
공주님 — Princess
She’s too special, so you name her after royalty. You’d do everything for her, including pawn your grandmother’s dentures just to give her everything she deserves.
She can be your precious princess, and you, her dashing prince.
If that’s the kind of love you’re looking for, this is the term of endearment for you!
귀요미 — Cutie
She’s so clumsy, naive and innocent. And it’s all so cute! She’s like a little girl, untouched by the realities of life. 귀요미 might be a fitting appellation. (There was even a Kiyomi Song a few years back.)
You might as well use and enjoy this while you’re both young and unmarried. Because when the kids come, labels drastically change. Well, first of all, she might not be that cute and innocent anymore. And when she becomes somebody’s mother, in Korean culture, you now call her by “name of child + omma.” So when she becomes a mom, it’d now be common to call her “Jeffrey omma,” for example.
Terms of Endearment for Men
If you’re a girl, you might be searching for a suitable nickname for your man since “boo,” “bae” and “babe” have already been taken. Here are some you might use instead:
남자친구 — Boyfriend
Again, not really a term of endearment, but this is the standard Korean word for “boyfriend.”
남자 means “man,” and 친구 means “friend.” The whole term can be contracted as 남친 , where you just take the first syllables of “namja” and “chingu.”
For a guy who’s really just a friend, you can call him a 남자 사람 친구 , which is literally translated as “male person friend.”
오빠 — Older brother
The world has been “oppa”-ing since the Korean wave reached Western shores. You always hear it in Korean dramas. It’s been commonly used, and truth be told, some guys don’t really want to be called an “oppa”—probably because of how it’s often been depicted in dramas.
The term actually means older brother (of a female). But it’s also used to refer to a friend who’s older than you.
In Korean culture, society looks with favor on romantic relationships where the male is a bit older than the female. During the get-to-know-you “friendly” stage, girls call these men their “oppa,” because they’re generally older than them. When they do eventually become a couple, this term, out of habit, is brought into the relationship. And that’s why you have loads of women who are calling their boyfriends “oppa.”
왕자님 — Prince
If ladies are princesses, then a frog can dream and be a prince. At least in name. If your relationship feels like a fairy tale, you can use this term of endearment to tell your partner that he’s your prince.
Hey, did you know that Korea has a modern-day prince…and he’s American?! It’s no Korean drama, but here’s the royal tale.
Korean Nicknames for Friends, Family and More
Aside from your significant other, you might also want to give the other special people in your life Korean nicknames:
애기야 — Baby
애기 refers to the noun “baby,” and as mentioned earlier, the inclusion of 야 creates a tone of informality and affection. So naturally, any adorable little toddler, yours or someone else’s, can rightly deserve the nickname of 애기야.
Of course, your furry children, such as your dog and cat, can also receive this moniker.
Remember that though this is typically a platonic nickname, it is sometimes used as the romantic “babe” or “baby” that you may be familiar with.
친구 — Friend
It’s always wholesome whenever a buddy directly calls you “friend.” You know that you two are pals, but it gives you a warm feeling when your relationship is acknowledged so frankly.
So, in a simple show of affection, good pals in Korea may happily greet each other with a “친구야.”
베프 — “Bef” (for best friend)
If you’re lucky enough to have a BFF in your life, then he or she would be your 베프.
It’s short for the Korean transliteration of the English “best friend,” which is 베스트 프랜드 . 베프 is a nickname commonly used by the younger generation due to its slang-y nature, but like all modern vocabulary, older folks are free to use it for their pals-for-life as well.
바보 — Dummy / Idiot
Every person has his or her brainless moments, and it’s often someone’s duty (especially if they’re the poor chap’s friend) to tactfully comment that they are indeed being a silly head.
바보, while not a nickname one would like to receive, can still be a teasing term of endearment that isn’t meant to be taken all too seriously. 바보 and the more informal 바보야 are common playful nicknames used in both platonic and romantic contexts.
형 — Older brother / Bro (for males)
In Korea, just as girls are expected to call their older brothers 오빠, boys and men are expected to call their blood-related older brothers 형. However, the title isn’t reserved just for family.
Your big bro is someone whom you can depend on. He’s the dude who might incessantly remind you that he’s your elder, but he still does his best to have your back. If you’re a guy and you have a close male figure in your life who’s older than you (but not by a drastic margin), you can also call him 형.
언니 — Older sister (for females)
언니 is what Korean girls call their elder sisters, and the title works quite like 형.
If you’re close to an older female figure, then you may call her 언니. It’s also common to precede the title with the name of the lady herself; for example, you can call Miss Yu Na 유나언니 .
누나 — Older sister (for males)
Korean boys and men call their older sisters 누나 as a matter of familial honor. But like the other sibling-related titles, they can also call their older female friends 누나, especially if they respect them in some manner.
It’s not as common as a younger girl plus oppa dynamic, but there of course are younger men dating older women in Korea. In fact, there are a number of popular K-dramas featuring “noona romance.”
동생 — Younger sibling
It doesn’t matter if you actually have a biological younger sibling. Perhaps there’s a little twerp in your life who’s the target of your head-noogies and practical jokes.
By calling them 동생, you can let them know behind all the teasing and banter that you consider them a little brother or sister. Alternatively, you can be a little meaner and substitute 동 with 똥 , meaning “poop,” to say 똥생 .
막내 — Youngest
Korean culture enjoys frequently reminding you of your age, whether you like it or not. And if you happen to be surrounded by those older than you, chances are that someone will point out the fact.
This nickname is reserved for the youngest individual in a group, whether it’s your own child or a workplace junior. Keep in mind that the person in question may be a bit miffed at being labeled as such, even if the title is used out of affection.
똥강아지 — Poop puppy
Puppies are always cute. Even if they’re dirty and covered in their own filth.
It doesn’t sound appealing, but this is actually a cute nickname that’s known to be used by adoring grandparents for their grandkids. They could also just say 강아지 (which means “puppy”), to spare them some embarrassment.
Using Korean Terms of Endearment and Nicknames
Learning words like the ones on this list is a great way to bring your language skills beyond “textbook Korean” and into the realm of real-world Korean speaking.
As you see, each of these words has its own unique usage within Korean culture. These words may seem difficult at first, but luckily, there are a ton of great internet resources to help you learn when and how to use each one. If you ever feel confused about usage, the WordReference Korean Forum can be a great place to look for an answer. Or, you can always reach out to a Korean language exchange partner or Korean-speaking friend for clarification.
It’d also be a good idea to see how these terms are used in Korean pop culture. Some online immersion programs make the process more efficient. FluentU, for example, enables you to search its library of authentic Korean web videos for clips that contain a specific nickname. This might be helpful if one of these strikes your fancy and you want to see what situations they’re used in.
That’s it for our list of Korean terms of endearment and nicknames. So, which one will you use first?
Is it 애인?
Choose wisely, because you might be using it lots of times (I hope!)