Where does habibi come from?
Habibi or habibti comes from the root word meaning “love.” Habib (masculine) or habiba (feminine) refers to a loved one. The final -i is a possessive—it turns “love” into “my love.”
Habibi is a Arabic word, but has also been borrowed into Hebrew, complete with its Arabic pronunciation. It's likely that the adoption was in part due to an existing Hebrew word that is a very close relative, haviv, meaning pleasant or likeable.
Who uses habibi?
Habibi is frequently used in songs to express romantic intention. In this case, the feminine version sometimes falls by the wayside; both men and women are habibi.
In everyday speech, however, habibi can be used from parent to child, and between friends of both the same genders. In some places, including Lebanon, it’s even common to use the word to soften interactions between strangers. This is somewhat similar to the use of hon, baby, and sweetie in some parts of the United States, where something that’s typically a pet name for loved ones becomes acceptable to apply to someone you’ve just met.
Habibi can also be used as a name, most commonly a surname. Perhaps because of the positive associations, it is not uncommon to see it used as a name for businesses as well. Dance troupes, bands, and restaurants can all be found with the name Habibi.
When used for a parent to a child, the word could be translated as sweetie or honey. In a more romantic context, beloved or my love might be more accurate. When used between friends or strangers, it can be represented as “my brother,” or “my friend.” To translate that further into colloquial English, it’s similar to bro or dude.
“Hi habibi I miss you I love you I need you???”
Asima Hassim Saluang Facebook (February 6, 2017)
“My mom: habibi can you throw the trash out?”
Samer @WaladShami Twitter (March 15, 2017)
“Habibti, ta'lli– come to our house for lunch this afternoon.”
Louisa B. Waugh, Meet Me in Gaza: Uncommon Stories of Life inside the Strip (June 3, 2013)