From “baby” to “stinky butt,” using cute (and sometimes horrifying) nicknames as a couple is one of those things we don’t really talk about, but almost all of us do. Sometimes these pet names happen organically, and sometimes, well, you just sorta lean into something more mainstream, like “bae.”
But before adopting a new one Nickname for your significant other on a whim, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what you’re calling them. If you’re wondering what bae means, you’re not alone. Even though the nickname has been popular for a while, its meaning isn’t exactly as well-known.
When did people start saying “bae”?
According to a 2014 Time article “Bae” was first used in the 1500s to reference the sounds sheep make. (You know, like “baaaa?”) Nowadays, when people say the word, they’re not typically talking about animal noises. Instead, bae is almost always used as a term of endearment for something or someone. So the good news is you won’t accidentally be referencing livestock when addressing your special someone—definitely an important factor when picking a nickname.
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Beyond the sheep days, the word got a major revival in 2014 when Pharrell Williams released his song “Come Get It Bae.” At that point, most of the population was experiencing the term for the first time, and pretty much instantaneously, people started using the slang term in place of former nicknames like “babe” or “boo.” Whether you’re all about the word or just need some nickname alternativeshere’s everything you could ever want to know about bae.
What does “bae” mean?
While it’s obvious the word means something positive if people use it in place of their partners’ names, it’s not really evident what bae means in modern times. Unlike “sweetheart” (someone sweet) or baby (someone who cries a lot—kidding), bae is sort of just a sound. It feels like an incomplete word, and that’s because it actually might be.
You see, there are two schools of thought on the whole “meaning of bae” conundrum. The first is that bae is a shortened version of the word babe with the letter “b” dropped. This wouldn’t be the first time a missing letter or two created a whole new term. I mean, just look at the word “cray.” Language is always evolving, after all, and dropping a letter usually still holds the meaning of the word (in this case “babe”), but adds a modern twist.
Now the other, more widely acknowledged idea is that bae is actually an acronym that stands for “before anyone else.” Sometimes the “anyone” is replaced with “anything” by referencing an inanimate object. Like if that Philly cheesesteak you’re chowing down is tops, you could say it’s “bae.” Hell, bae even works for places, if you want to say it’s your favorite spot.
Whether you’re Team Dropped Letter or Team Acronym, bae basically just means the person, place, or thing you’re talking about comes before everything and everyone else in your book. They’re the best. The supreme. The GOAT And if you’re using the word to describe someone, it’s essentially just the equivalent of any other cutesy pet name. In fact, the Merriam-Webster definition of bae says “sweetheart” and “baby” are synonyms of the term, so if either of those nicknames feels accurate for the person you’re thinking of, bae could also work.
When is it okay to use the word “bae”?
As mentioned above, bae can be used to refer basically any noun, but if you’re considering using it as a nickname, you might feel a little hesitant. It’s definitely trendier than the classic “baby,” and it’s not as original as an evolved inside joke, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit. And honestly, the best way to find out if it works is to simply use it. If you want to ask your partner’s permission first, that’s cool too, but they’ll likely let you know if they’re not a fan of the word.
If you’re unsure about using a nickname in general, science says it’s actually a good thing. In fact, according to a popular 1993 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, there’s a positive correlation between relationship satisfaction and the use of pet names. So while it might seem silly, swapping your partner’s name for “bae” is actually indicative of a healthy bond.
What are some other nickname options if “bae” isn’t your thing?
If something about the term just doesn’t work for you or your partner, no sweat. There’s pretty much an infinite number of pet names out there that you can use instead. Here are a few popular ones that can easily be adopted in place of bae:
- Soupsnake (for fans of The Office)
Ultimately, whatever nickname you choose for your partner, as long as it makes you both feel bonded and connected, it’ll be bae.
Rachel Varina is a full-time freelance writer covering everything from the best vibrators (the Lelo Sona) to the best TV shows (The Vampire Diaries). She has over 10 years of editorial experience with bylines at Women’s Health, Elite Daily, Betches, and more. She lives in Tampa, Florida, but did not feed her husband to tigers. When she’s not testing out new sex toys (100+ and counting so far!), she’s likely chilling with her dogs or eating buffalo chicken dip. Ideally at the same time. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.