Insult of Endearment

To show how well two people don't get along, one or both gives the other an insulting nickname and refuses to call them anything else. Over time, the nickname loses its bite as the characters learn to respect, if not like, each other. Then the formerly insulting nickname becomes more of a term of endearment.

This trope is a good way to show Character Development. As two people who initially disliked each other grow closer, the use of a formerly insulting nickname as a gesture of affection is a good way to showcase their evolving relationship. The Vitriolic Best Buds may see insulting nicknames as part of their snarky banter rather then something genuinely meant to hurt, and couples who use insulting nicknames as part of their Belligerent Sexual Tension may soften the use over time to show that They Really Do Love Each Other. This is more likely when one of them is a tsundere. This is relatively common in Real Life, especially amongst boys and men (often developed in the manner stated above).

Not to be confused with Insult Backfire, when an insult is taken as a compliment, or Appropriated Appellation, when the person cleverly uses the insulting name to his/her own advantage. In order for it to be this trope, the original nicknamer has to change from using the name as a deliberate insult to using it as a term of endearment, or at least friendly ribbing. Contrast Terms of Endangerment, where a villain addresses a hero by an affectionate name but there's nothing behind it but hatred. Also see Affectionate Nickname.

Because this trope typically accompanies Character Development, there may be unmarked spoilers present.

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    Anime And Manga 
  • Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai: Yozora refers to Sena as "Meat" because of her Gag Boobs. It becomes clear later on that the nickname isn't really an insult anymore, and Sena actually secretly likes it because it's the first time anyone gave her a nickname.
  • Toradora!: Taiga calls Ami "stupid chihuahua" ("baka-chi") at first, but after both go through a lot of Character Development, it seems to be more of just an habitual nickname than a deliberate insult.
  • Tiger & Bunny: Veteran superhero Kotetsu resents having to team up with rookie Barnaby, due to the latter being younger, better-looking, more beloved of the sponsors, and having the exact same powers as him. He gives Barnaby the insulting moniker "Bunny-chan" as a pun on his given name. Later on they start acting like real partners, and "Bunny" becomes Kotetsu's personal nickname for his partner. Barnaby, who used to take offence at being called by the the nick, eventually comes to accept it...though he still won't stand for being addressed as "Bunny-chan".
  • Sailor Moon: Mamoru creates the insulting nickname "Dumpling Head" (Odango Atama in Japanese), "Meatball Head" in the DiC English dub of the original anime, "Pigtails" in the Mixx/Tokyopop manga release, and "Bun-head" in the Kodansha retranslation and Viz subs for Usagi, but it becomes a term of endearment after they fall in love.
  • Lovely Complex: Vitriolic Best Buds Koizumi and Otani refer to each other as "midget" and "amazon" or "totem pole" respectively. Later, after the Relationship Upgrade, they still occasionally call each other this, though in a considerably softer manner than before.
  • Takeda "The Puncher" and Ukita "The Thrower" manage to use their monikers very touchingly in the dub of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple after both complete their Heel-Face Turn (s) (managing to save Kenichi (for both), save Takeda and Kenichi (for Ukita)), and both upright quitting Ragnarok, reaffirming their friendship and promising to help each other out. Prior to this, their monikers were being used rather beratingly by their superiors.
  • Naruto calls Jiraiya "Ero-sennin" (pervy hermit) throughout the story but it's clearly not insulting after the Time Skip, and even less after Jiraiya's death.
    • Also, Sasuke calls Naruto "usuratonkachi" in canon, which essentially means "idiot." It's claimed in the Official Databook that Sasuke has began using it as a "pet name" or "in an affectionate way".
  • In Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, Neuro frequently calls his human assistants "servant number one" and "servant number two" (along with a lot more one-off insults). By the end of the series, though, he develops a sort of demonic respect for the human Yako, and "servant" becomes if not affectionate, then at least respectful. He maintains that Yako is still a "pillbug"... but the rest of humanity are amoebas by comparison.
  • In Pandora Hearts Gil calls Alice "Baka-usagi" and Alice calls Gil "Seaweed head" noticeably even after they become closer.
  • Rebuild of Evangelion: Asuka's trademark "Stupid Shinji" has become this...sort of. In a mirror of their first scene in the anime where they sort of open up to each other (but unlike the series it actually finishes without something one of them saying ruining it) Asuka cuts off Shinji's attempt to sound formal to her by annoucing she's going to dub him Stupid Shinji, so he can drop all formality and just call her Asuka. Notably she becomes alot nicer to him from this point on. Of course a slightly nicer Eva is still Eva and she ends up wounded when she goes out of her way to do something kind for him. But if her smile at him in the preview is any indication she didn't let that revert her to her old ways.
  • Code Geass. At first, Jeremiah Gottwald is ridiculed with his nickname "Orange-kun/Orange Boy" given by Zero/Lelouch during the latter's effort to free Suzaku from the former. He utterly dislikes the term but after coming to terms with Zero and a Heel-Face Turn, he starts taking pride in it and considers it the highest level of praise.
  • At the beginning of D.Gray-Man, Kanda called Allen "Moyashi" (Beansprout) because he didn't want to spend time and energy remembering the name of someone who was just going to die, anyways. He continues with this annoying nickname throughout the entire series, only calling Allen by his real name once. By now, though, Kanda is actually quite protective of Allen, due to owing him a debt (and wanting to kill him when he turns into Neah), so this has led to some interesting lines such as "If your mission is to assassinate Beansprout, I'll cut you down where you stand."
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Some fans believe this is the case with Kaiba towards the rest of the cast. His more famous insults are "mutt" or "dog" for Joey and "dweebs" and "nerd patrol" for the gang as a whole.
  • In Gokusen, Kumiko's students came up with the name "Yankumi" as an insult and were disappointed when Kumiko thought it was cute. After the students develop genuine respect for their teacher, the nickname becomes affectionate.
  • Haru of Ojojojo always refers to her friends and classmates (especially Kawayanagi) as "commoners". Becomes an affectionate nickname after she slowly grows attached to friends.

    Comic Books 
  • In Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem, Intrepid Reporter and all around Anti-Hero resents the two assistants foisted upon him by his editor, so he dubs them the "filthy assistants." Later on, after he starts respecting them, "Filthy Assistants! To me!" practically becomes a Catch Phrase.
  • Lois Lane's use of "Smallville" for Clark Kent in some continuities goes from insulting to affectionate over the course of time.
  • The Incredible Hulk tends to do this with his enemies-who-become-friends when in his Hulk Speak mode. Examples:
  • In the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics, Antoine is often referred to as "Ant" by the other Freedom Fighters, as an insult as first (i.e. comparing him to an ant) but later as a friendly nickname.

    Fan Works 

  • In National Lampoon's Animal House, plump and naive Kent Dorfman, the newest member of the Delta house is given the nickname "Flounder", probably because of his size (in comparison to fish maybe), yet this becomes an endearing name for him over time.
    "Your new Delta Tau name is...Pinto"
    "Why Pinto?"
    "(BURP!) Why NOT?!"
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Vanellope calls Ralph "Stinkbrain" on several occasions.
    Hey Stinkbrain... you're my hero!
  • In The Pride Of The Yankees, Lou Gehrig and his wife take to calling each other "Tanglefoot," in reference to their humbling first impressions of each other.
  • In Gran Torino, Walt's constant use of racial slurs appears to be this—particularly when we see him with his old friends at the barber shop.
  • In Film/Maleficent the title character calls princess Aurora "beastie" when talking about her. First because she hates her, later it becomes a habit.

  • A borderline example from The Call of the Wild. When Buck does something good, John Thorton lavishes curse words on him. Buck sees this as an expression of love - which it is, albeit a slightly bizarre one.
  • In the novel Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, the main character is a doctor named Quillon. He's accompanied by a guide named Meroka. She doesn't like doctors, and at first, doesn't particular like Quillon either, so she insists on always calling him "Cutter", much to Quillon's chagrin. However, as the novel progresses, Meroka begins to warm to Quillon. She still calls him Cutter though.
    • Amusingly, even other characters begin calling him Cutter, as they mistake that for his real name due to Meroka's continued use of it.
  • "Princess" was used as a mostly pejorative nickname for Kelly Connolly in Deadline, but it became slightly affectionate toward the end of the book.
  • Early in the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, Jon is given the nickname "Lord Snow", to emphasize his illegitimate birth. As everyone hated him when he first arrived, no one used it affectionately. Later, though, he started to gain a lot of friends, and toward the end of the third book many people use "Lord Snow" as a term of respect, although the person who originally coined it still meant it as an insult. Eventually, the nickname becomes a legitimate title.
  • In the Descent novels, Sierra Taurus addresses Ben St. John with the nickname "Little Bird". This grates on St. John's nerves (like Taurus wanted), but after they complete their first mission together and become true wingmates, he keeps using the term and St. John doesn't mind it. It becomes so common between the two of them that Dravis realizes St. John has survived in the third book because someone overheard Taurus address him that way.
  • Light And Dark The Awakening Of The Mageknight: Rigil calls Danny 'newb' as an insult because the latter is a first year squire. After their duel, he continues calling Danny 'newb' but as a friendly nickname.
  • Song at Dawn: Estela's opinion of Nici is initially dismal because he's useless as a shepherd dog, and so she calls him 'big idiot'. She still uses it when she's fond of him.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Annabeth frequently calls Percy "Seaweed Brain", after his godly father's domain, and Percy's tendency to act recklessly. It starts out as an insult, but it's lost a lot of the sting by the fourth or fifth time they save each others' lives. It is a clear Insult of Endearment by the end of The Last Olympian. In fact when Thalia uses it, Percy is angry at the though of anyone but Annabeth using it.
  • Clan cats from Warrior Cats often tease each other by affectionately call each other "mouse-brain", "fish-breath", or some other variety of that. Squirrelflight, for example, is well-known for calling Bramblestar "mouse-brain". It's the harsher insults like "crowfood-eater" or "fox-heart" that they have to watch out for.
  • In Wyrd Sisters'', Vitoller (a human) affectionately calls Hwel (a dwarf), who's been his closest friend for decades, "B'zugda-hiara"note , which is normally a killing insult in Dwarfish. It's made very clear that Vitoller's adopted son, while also a friend of Hwel's, does not have the same privilege. "Some things you earn."
  • In The Mortal Instruments, following Jace's lead, the Shadowhunters tend to consistently refer to Simon as "the mundane", despite him proving himself useful (and at one point saving their lives). Later on it gets switched to "vampire", although Isabelle in particular becomes less prone to use the latter.
  • Journey To Chaos: Tiza gives nicknames to everyone but she's unfriendly to everyone the first time they met. For example, she calls her teammates Eric and Nolien "Dimwit" and "Tenderfoot" respectively because she considers them stupid and squemish. After they become Fire-Forged Friends, the nicknames become endearing.

    Live Action TV 
  • On White Collar, Mozzie initially called Peter "Suit" in a derogatory way, but over the course of a few seasons, it becomes more of an affectionate nickname. Especially after Mozzie met Elizabeth and started calling her "Mrs. Suit."
  • Bones: Hodgins dismissively calls new intern Finn Abernathy "Opie," after the character in The Andy Griffith Show. Abernathy counters by calling Hodgins "Thurston." By the end of the episode they've gained respect for each other, but still use the same nicknames. As of "The Maiden in the Mushrooms", they're going into business together selling "Opie and Thurston's Hot Sauce" (originally Finn's late grandmother's recipe, chemically recreated by Hodgins after he used the last of Finn's last bottle not knowing it was irreplaceable.)
    • Played With by Booth and Bones herself. Booth originally used the name as a term of endearment and respect for Brennan but after their first falling out he continued to call her it out of a desire to annoy her and always got a "Don't call me Bones!" in response. Later on she came to like the nickname again and he became the only person allowed to call her that.
  • Dennis Duffy on 30 Rock thinks "dummy" is this for Liz, even though she hates it.
  • In the Robin101 episode of How I Met Your Mother, we learn that Robin doesn't say, "I love you," but if she ever shakes her head at you and says, "You're in idiot," that's what it means.
  • Scrubs:
    • J.D. is initially called "Bambi" by nurse Carla, as he's a new and inexperienced doctor. The nickname persists even after J.D. becomes more experienced and Carla becomes friends with him.
    • Dr. Cox definitely meant his terms for the main characters ("Newbie"/, "Barbie" and "Gandhi") to be insulting, but kept using them even once he started to respect them as doctors.
  • Doctor Who: As he departs to fight the cyber menace in a world not quite his own, the Doctor fondly calls him "Mickey the Idiot" one last time.
    • During the 7th Doctor's run, rebellious teenager companion Ace called the Doctor "Professor" to annoy him as part of her anti-authority streak. It later turned into an affectionate nickname between them.
  • In Nikita, Nikita often calls computer supergenius Berkoff 'nerd'. It started as her way of insulting him but as they worked together they became friends so now it is her way of showing him affection. She is the only one he allows to call him that.
  • In a BBC production of Gaudy Night, when Peter proposes to Harriet near the end, she responds, "Dear idiot!" and then kisses him. Although this is different than the novel's depiction (in which he proposes and she accepts in Latin), according to canon they've had several years of BST up to this point.
  • CSI NY Danny's calling Lindsay "Montana" start out this way; they never hated each other per se, but he used it to tease and annoy her, and it turned into a pet name later on.
  • NCIS:
    • DiNozzo frequently calls McGee "probie" (short for "probationary") in a lightly mocking way. In one episode McGee objects to the term, as he's no longer probationary. Gibbs' response is along the lines of "You want to guess what Franks (Gibbs' old partner) still calls me?" And played perfectly straight in those episodes in which Mike Franks appears: He does, in fact, call Gibbs "probie."
    • More frequently is DiNozzo calling McGee "Mc(Insert appropriate mocking pun)" for the situation.
  • Supernatural: Dean and Sam's trademark insults to each other ("Bitch." "Jerk.") don't really start out as flat insults (though they probably did when the pair were kids). But they do get distinctly more endearing over time. Just how much so is emphasized in an alternate reality (created all in Dean's mind, by his wish that their mother hadn't died), where Dean and Sam never bonded:
    Dean: "Bitch."
    Sam: "What are you calling me a 'bitch' for?"
    Dean: "You're supposed to say 'jerk'."
    Sam: "What?"
    Dean: "Never mind."
  • Adama's call-sign (Husker) in Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is actually a put-down from his co-pilot (Coker) after he first met him. He chooses it after spending a thinking Coker died, he didn't
  • Eddie of House of Anubis initially calls Patricia "yacker" as an insult, but it becomes an Affectionate Nickname when they start dating.
  • Shran from Star Trek: Enterprise calls Archer "Pinkskin".
  • In Gilmore Girls, Tristan often calls Rory "Mary", in reference to the Virgin Mary as an insult. However, he is interested in dating Rory for his entire stay on the show.
  • Howard from The Big Bang Theory wants the other astronauts to give him one of these when he goes to space, and tries to organize a situation that will get him a good one. However, after being embarrassed by his mother calling him for breakfast, he ends up with "Fruit Loops." It does end up being less insulting... sort of...

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Backfires in Big Nate. After hearing that boys are more likely than girls to express friendship thru insults, Nate and Francis start playfully insulting each other, until Francis hits a nerve. Then Nate does it on purpose. Soon they fight physically.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Jeff Foxworthy notes that this is far more common between men than women. You might hear a man say "Wally, you ugly old bald-headed pervert!" to his friend, but you won't hear a woman say "Janet, you fat pig! You water-retaining sea cow! How are you?"

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Barret continues to call Cloud "Spiky" as a derogatory referral to his hair, but by the end of the game, it has become a term of endearment.
  • In Dragon Age II, the prim-and-proper Aveline keeps calling the Pirate Girl Isabela "whore", at first with disdain (though Isabela doesn't mind the moniker) but as the two women come to know and accept each other, "whore" becomes Aveline's term of affection of sorts for Isabela, which she now actively enjoys from her.
  • The werewolf in the Dark Brotherhood in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim constantly refers to you as "hamshank" and various other nicknames for food. He explains that as a werewolf, you look awfully appetizing, so he's going to call you food. He warms up later... as far as sociopaths "warm up".
  • In the Nijiiro no Seishun canon of the Tokimeki Memorial Drama Series, Minori Akiho calls the main protagonist "Juu-rokuban no Senpai" (No.16-Senpai, referring to his shirt's number in the Soccer Club): the nickname had a derogative connotation at first due to the intense jealousy she had towards him for getting her beloved senpai Saki's attention, then after her Character Development kicked in and she came to like him, it becomes an affectionate nickname.
  • Tales of Vesperia: Rita Mordio. If used with Repede, she first refers to him as "dog". If you continue to use them together, she starts to warm up to him and affectionately calls him, Spot, instead. By game's end, she calls him by his own name. Basically going from:
    Rita: (condescending) "Not bad for a dog!"
    changes to:
    Rita: (admirably) "Good job, Spot."
    then finally:
    Rita: "Nice job, Repede!"
  • Lester The Unlikely on the SNES qualifies.
  • In DMC Devil May Cry when Dante and Virgil are getting ready for the final battle, they share some brotherly insults.
    Vergil: You made it. We make quite the team.
    Dante: I'm stronger.
    Vergil: I'm smarter.
    Dante: I'm better looking.
    Vergil: Mundus is behind the vault door. Let's not keep him waiting. ... And I've got a bigger dick.

     Web Original 
  • Most characters in Questionable Content do this. A good example with Marten's mother is here.
  • In If The Emperor Had A Text To Speech Device, Magnus lampshades that the Emperor, for all the insults he levels at the Custodes, is pretty fond of him and trusts him more than he ever did any of his children, so the curses might be more of this than actual insults.

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, during the "Blind Bandit" episode, Aang manages to sneak onto the Beifong family's estate, without alerting the guards, to ask Toph to be his earthbending master; which leads her to call him "twinkle toes". As the series progresses, what began as an insult starts to become more of a nickname, and finally a term of affection, as seen at the end of "Nightmares And Daydreams".
    Katara: You've been training for this since the day we've met. I've seen your progress. You're smart, brave, and strong enough.
    Aang: You really think so?
    Sokka: We all do. You can do this. You're ready.
    Toph: You're the man, Twinkle-toes!
  • It's really sweet when you find out in The Legend of Korra that Toph still called Aang the previous series' nickname of "Twinkletoes", even when they were in their forties. While it's definitely meant as endearing Aang finds it annoying.
    • "Nice to see you again, Twinkle-toes."
    • The aya-aye spirit, after warming up to Wan after he saves Mula, calls him "Stinky", thinking it's a better one than his real name. Whenever we hear him call Wan "Stinky" after that, he sounds sincere.
    Aye-aye spirit: I am proud to call you my friend, Stinky.
  • King of the Hill kind of uses this: Cotton always referred to Peggy as "Hank's Wife," which demonstrated both his sexism and his general dislike for her. However, in later seasons he even uses it when he's trying to be nice. It's worth noting that his Character Development also includes indications that he's at least a little bit senile.
  • In the first episode of Ben 10: Omniverse, Ben and Gwen part ways by warmly calling each other by their childhood insults of "doofus" and "dweeb".
  • In Wakfu, Evangelyne frequently calls Sadlygrove a "Iop-brain". It becomes more affectionate after they become an Official Couple.

    Real Life 
  • In British English, although "twit" nominally means "idiot", it's always used as a humourous or affectionate (or both) term. Even more jarringly, the Australians use "bastard", "wanker" or a certain other word in much the same way.
  • In many friendships this is a rather standard situation. Even ones that skip the so called enemy phase can have people insulting each other while meaning the exact opposite.
  • It's not uncommon for Japanese lovers to call each other "idiot" (baka) but it's usually meant affectionately.
  • This also tends to pop up in the BDSM community between Dom/mes and submissives.
  • Astronaut Pete Conrad gave fellow astronaut Jim Lovell the highly-unflattering nickname of "Shaky." The two men were close friends and the nickname was just an example of Conrad's famous sense of humour.