Croatian – as many other languages, but unlike English – has mechanisms for creating nouns standing for miniature versions of things. Those words are often applied to babies, children, and parts of them, and therefore stand for "cute" and "dear" things as well.
For instance, in Croatian you can say that a baby has a glava head, but people prefer to call it glavica little head. Such words are called diminutives and usually have a different emotional content.
Diminutives are words that are derived through a process that's only partially regular. Not all nouns have a diminutive, and there are various endings to derive them – they are like relational adjectives in that manner.
For nouns ending in -a, the main way to form diminutives is by replacing -a with -ica. The result is another noun, again ending in -a:
glava head → glavica|
krava cow → kravica
kiša rain → kišica
kuća house → kućica
pčela bee → pčelica|
riba fish → ribica
tata m dad → tatica m
žena woman/wife → ženica
As you can see, this applies to words like tata as well – the result is a word that corresponds to English Daddy.
In some meanings, diminutives are always used: for example the golden fish from stories, who grants wishes, is always zlatna ribica.
Certain nouns ending in -ka or -ga shift consonants (like k → č, g → ž etc.) but it doesn't happen to all nouns – forms must be learned:
baka grandmother → bakica|
daska plank → daščica
mačka cat → mačkica
ptica bird → ptičica|
ruka hand, arm → ručica
noga foot, leg → nožica
For some words, you'll encounter both forms, e.g. nožica and nogica (forms with unchanged consonants are more common in Zagreb area).
Croatian has two words for girl – one is colloquial, and another more formal; the derived diminutives have the same use:
cura (colloq.) girl → curica
djevojka (formal) girl → djevojčica
Certain diminutives have specific meanings. For example, ručica also means handle (e.g. on a door). More examples of a slight shift in meaning:
tikva pumpkin → tikvica zucchini (courgette)
torba bag → torbica purse
vreća sack → vrećica small bag, shopping bag
žlica spoon → žličica teaspoon
For masculine nouns in a consonant, the main way is to add -ić, as if it were a case ending (it's, of course, not a case ending):
ključ key → ključić|
kolač cake → kolačić
komad piece → komadić
list leaf → listić
nos nose → nosić
most bridge → mostić|
nož knife → nožić
prst finger → prstić
zid wall → zidić
zub tooth → zubić
You can see how the stress for words like kolač shifts, as always when anything is added to them. Again, for babies and small children, people prefer to call their body parts prstić, nosić and so on.
For a few words (there's no rule, as far as I can tell) -čić is added instead:
kamen stone → kamenčić
prozor window → prozorčić
For some nouns, consonants are shifted before -ić or -čić (e.g. c, k → č, h → š etc.):
lanac (lanc-) chain → lančić
krug circle → kružić
rak crab → račić
zec rabbit, bunny → zečić
The word lančić is always used for fine chains worn around the neck.
Like for feminine nouns, certain diminutives have developed specific meanings:
brat brother → bratić cousin
novac (novc-) money → novčić coin
Historically, bratić meant something like "brother's small (boy)", and this was extended to name people after their fathers by diminutives:
Ivo → Ivić|
Jure → Jurić
Mate → Matić|
Tomo → Tomić
These were later used as last names – so you now understand why there are so many last names in Croatia and neighboring countries ending in -ić.
Sometimes, you'll see diminutives from neuter nouns, derived with -ce, with many irregularities:
drvo tree → drvce
jezero lake → jezerce
sunce sun → sunašce
It's interesting that the very word sunce is likely originally a diminutive as well.
However, in Kajkavian areas – generally the area around Zagreb, and north and northeast from Zagreb – another suffix to create masculine and neuter diminutives prevails: -ek (-eko for neuters). Since Zagreb is Kajkavian-influenced, you will find such words in Zagreb as well, usually:
medo teddy bear → medek (NW Croatia)
srce heart → srčeko (NW Croatia)
These words are common when people talk to small children. In NW Croatia, diminutives are generallly much more used than in other regions of Croatia: people will tell children to eat juhica and meseko which basically has no meaning except to sweeten the words juha soup and meso meat.
Similar to diminutives, but distinct, are hypocorisms, also known as pet names or nicknames. They are alternative words for things and people used within family, especially by children. One hypocorism is already mentioned above: medo for the usual medvjed bear.
Words mama Mom and tata m Dad are also, historically, a kind of hypocorisms.
Hypocorisms for personal names are mostly fixed in language; as in English, they usually involve shortening of names (in Croatian, to two syllables) and simplifying them:
Branimir → Branko|
Ivan → Ivo / Ive
Juraj → Jure / Jura
Katarina → Kata
Petar (Petr-) → Pero|
Tomislav → Tomo
Vladimir → Vlado
Zvonimir → Zvonko / Zvone
Compare this to English names William → Bill or Robert → Bob. Many such nickames are used as real names as well.
Diminutive-making mechanism is also applied to names and nicknames that end in -a or behave so, to make diminutive names:
Branka → Brankica|
Ivo → Ivica m / Ivek
Jure → Jurica m
Kata → Katica|
Pero → Perica m
Ruža → Ružica
This is similar to English Bill → Billy, Rose → Rosie and Bob → Bobby.
(the rest is coming soon)