A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin
A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin Milne playing with a toy teddy bear  Getty Images

How Winnie-the-Pooh Got His Name

Oct 14, 2015

Correction appended, Oct. 14, 2015

A.A. Milne’s books—including the simply titled Winnie-the-Pooh, which was published on this day in 1926—made Winnie the bear and his animal friends world famous, but they were not only the product of Milne’s imagination. The author, along with illustrator Ernest H. Shepard, actually based his work on some very real stuffed animals—those of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne.

Although the book was published 89 years ago Wednesday, the beloved character got his start five years before, when Milne gave his son a toy bear for his first birthday on Aug. 21, 1921. But that bear wasn't named Winnie: he was initially called Edward. The name Winnie came later, from a brown bear that young Christopher Robin Milne visited in the London Zoo. Harry Colebourn, a Canadian lieutenant and veterinary surgeon, had brought the bear cub to England at the beginning of World War I and named her for the city of Winnipeg, leaving her at the London Zoo when his unit left for France. Milne’s introduction to his 1924 book When We Were Very Young traces the origin of the second half of the name to a swan: “Christopher Robin, who feeds this swan in the mornings, has given him the name of 'Pooh.' This is a very fine name for a swan, because, if you call him and he doesn't come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying 'Pooh!' to show him how little you wanted him.”

But while only Rabbit and Owl were products of the author and artist’s imaginations, not all of the illustrations are actually of Christopher Robin’s toys. Indeed, because Shepard drew the bear for When We Were Very Young, Pooh himself was not based on Christopher Robin Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, but on Shepard’s son’s teddy bear, named Growler. Milne insisted Shepard draw the rest of the characters for Winnie-the-Pooh from Christopher Robin’s toys, but Pooh remained based on Growler.

Unlike Growler, who was eventually destroyed by a dog, and Roo, who went missing in an apple orchard in the 1930s, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga are still around today, and have been on display together at the New York Public Library since 1987.

Read more about Christopher Robin Milne and his childhood toys, here in the TIME Vault: Bear Essentials

History NewsletterStay on top of the history behind today’s news. View Sample

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Winnipeg. It is a city.

Writers on Their Favorite Young Adult Books

Laura Hillenbrand,  whose latest book "Unbroken" has just come out, in her home in Washington, DC.
Laura Hillenbrand, Author of Unbroken. "Come On Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody. When I was eight years old, I bought this battered paperback for a quarter at a neighborhood fair. Enthralled, I read it over and over, until the cover fell off and the pages parted from the spine. I had to hold the book together with a rubber band. The story stayed with me, and many years later, it would inspire me to become an author myself."Bill O'Leary—The Washington Post/Getty Images
Laura Hillenbrand,  whose latest book "Unbroken" has just come out, in her home in Washington, DC.
Author James Patterson
Author Michael Lewis poses for a portrait while promoting his book about high-frequency trading (HFT) named "Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt," in New York
Jesmyn Ward Portrait Session
National Book Awards
Jennifer Weiner
USA - 2013 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
John Irving;
Matthew Quick
Adelle Waldman Portrait Session
Andy Cohen
Gillian Fllynn
Simon Doonan And NEXXUS Create Window Display At Duane Reade In Tribute To The 2013 Tony Awards
Dick Cavett
Martin Amis at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014
Laura Hillenbrand, Author of Unbroken. "Come On Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody. When I was eight years old, I bought this bat

Bill O'Leary—The Washington Post/Getty Images
1 of 17
All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.