What Does “Pumpkin” Mean as a Nickname?

If you’re in the United States, you’ve probably heard the word “pumpkin” being uttered lovingly between spouses, or cooed by old people to chubby little babies.

So, if you’d like to learn how this word became a cute nickname, keep reading! We have all the answers you seek.

What Does “Pumpkin” Mean as a Nickname?

“Pumpkin” is a term of endearment in North America. It means “darling” or “sweetheart.” People started using it as a nickname in the 1900s, often when referring to someone “small and adorable.” Parents often use it in respect of their children, though romantic partners may use it too.


  • “Pumpkin” is a term of endearment meaning “sweetheart” or “darling.”
  • People started using this term as an affectionate nickname in the early 1900s.
  • Family members or partners may use it, but it is most frequently used to refer to someone “small and cute,” like a baby or child.

The Collins Dictionary defines this phrase quite clearly as “a term of endearment.” Moreover, the Wiktionary goes further by saying that, in the US, this term refers to someone “small and cute.”

So, we know for sure that you can use “pumpkin” to refer lovingly to your partner, spouse, child, or anyone for whom you feel affection.

However, elderly family members apparently use it most frequently, especially towards their grandchildren. This is particularly true in the Southern States.

This is, of course, not the only food-based pet name out there. People use sugar, cupcake, honey, peanut, and even snickerdoodle as embarrassing expressions of affection in the United States.

So, we know that pumpkin is a cute term of affection, but is there any clarity as to how and why it became a pet name?

Origin of “Pumpkin” as a Nickname

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “pumpkin” originated as a pet name around 1900, if not sooner.

One of the first clear instances of it being accepted as a term of endearment was in a 1942 edition of the Thesaurus of American Slang. Other than that, there is no real certainty regarding where it comes from.

It has since grown in popularity, and you may well have heard it in John Prine’s 1991 track, Daddy’s Little Pumpkin.

In What Situations Can You Use “Pumpkin” as a Nickname?

You can use “pumpkin” as a nickname whenever you please, essentially. However, in places outside of the US, it may sound a bit strange.

Nonetheless, you can use this phrase to refer to your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, to show that you find them as cute as can be.

A parent might call their children or babies this nickname as an expression of affection, and grandparents may do the same for their grandchildren:

  • Goodnight, pumpkin – remember to say your prayers before you fall asleep.

Additionally, since we generally have the freedom to say what we like, nothing is stopping you from calling your friends “pumpkin” as a way of expressing that you love them and find them cute.

They may not like it, but that may be the basis of its appeal.

Variations of the Nickname “Pumpkin”

There are a number of ways that people use this expression of affection. Here are a few examples:

  • Pumpkin pie
  • Pumpkin head
  • My little pumpkin

Incorrect Ways to Use “Pumpkin” as a Nickname

It might surprise you to learn that “pumpkin” wasn’t always a sweet nickname given to a loved one.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that in the 1680s, this phrase was actually an insult towards someone’s character or physique.

Back then, you could use it to imply that someone was “stupid, conceited, or self-important.” You could also use it to refer to someone with a “stout or portly body.” All and all, not very flattering!

These days, however, we generally recognize the word “pumpkin” as a cute term of endearment rather than an insult. Therefore, it’s no good calling your stupid, concede worst enemy “pumpkin” as an attempted insult.

They might think you’re flirting with them.