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First lady Michelle Obama and China's first lady Peng Liyuan unfurled scrolls to announce panda Bei Bei's name on Sept. 22, 2015
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

The month-old giant panda cub at the National Zoo officially has a name: Bei Bei.

First lady Michelle Obama and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan announced their name choice at the National Zoo in D.C. on Friday. “Bei Bei” means “precious treasure,” Zoo Director Dennis Kelly told reporters, and invites a host of ‘baby’ (or ‘bae’) wordplay.

Obama and Peng chose the name together from a list of finalists from zoo and Chinese officials, and revealed the choice by unfurling scrolls for an audience of schoolchildren. The announcement took some panda enthusiasts by surprise, since the zoo in the past has followed Chinese tradition of waiting 100 days to name the pandas.

“The giant panda exemplifies the common bond between China and the United States,” Ms. Peng told reporters. “We do need more bonds to bring the people of our two countries ever more closer and I think the giant panda is one of those bonds we can celebrate to achieve that goal.”

The announcement introduces potential confusion for future panda identification: Bei Bei has a 2-year-old sister, Bao Bao, whose complementary name also means “precious” or “treasure.”

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Write to Julia Zorthian at

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