How Winnie-the-Pooh Got His Name

3 minute read

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

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 Seabiscuitby 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
Author James Patterson
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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
Michael Lewis, Author of Flash Boys. “As a kid I lived on a steady diet of The Hardy Boysand Archie comic books, without the slightest sense there was anything better I might be doing with my time.”Lucas Jackson—Reuters/Corbis
Jesmyn Ward Portrait Session
Jesmyn Ward, Author of Men We Reaped. "When I was around eight or so, I discovered The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley at my local book fair. I charmed one of my cousins into buying it for me, and then I devoured it. The heroine is an illegitimate princess who hunts dragons in an attempt to find some place for herself in her father's kingdom; I loved the book because the heroine is tough, stubborn, and smart, and she takes on a world bent on making her less than she is. I empathized."Ulf Andersen—Getty Images
National Book Awards
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Curtis Sittenfeld, Author of Sisterland. “I've always loved the George and Martha books by James Marshall. These tales of two hippo BFFs are wonderfully irreverent and full of both misbehavior and compassion.”Haraz Ghanbari—AP
Jennifer Weiner
Jennifer Weiner, Author of All Fall Down. "One of the joys of motherhood is getting to re-discover the books I loved as a girl by handing them to—and occasionally forcing them upon—my daughters. Recently, my seven-year-old and I have worked our way through the Little House on the Prairie books. Re-reading them was like curling up in a beloved, cozy blanket. A blanket that made us both hungry. As a girl, I loved the stories of adventure—surviving sickness, blizzards, poor crops and snotty Nellie Olson. As a grown-up, I was surprised at how much of the prose is devoted to the finding, gathering, slaughtering, preparing, and eventual devouring of mass quantities of food. The books remain touching and transporting—if you can get past a desire for maple-syrup candy, cracklings, codfish gravy and cornmeal mush."Chris Pizzello—AP
USA - 2013 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. "The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald. Set in a tiny town in Utah in the late 1890's, The Great Brain series recounts the mischief and miracles wrought by Tom Fitzgerald through the eyes of his ordinary-brained younger brother John. You idolize Tom's brilliance—his schemes make him more powerful and exciting than anybody else—but you can't escape his selfishness or his greed. I think as a kid I appreciated liberation from the regular moral categories."Katy Winn—Corbis
John Irving;
John Irving, Author of The Cider House Rules. "The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey. Edward Gorey is the rare writer-artist whose work has a lasting effect on children and adults."Aaron Vincent Elkaim—AP
Matthew Quick
Matthew Quick, Author of The Silver Linings Playbook. “Although I can't recall the title of a single edition, I remember reading and loving many Choose Your Own Adventure novels when I was a kid. The series made you the protagonist and every so many pages you would come to a question. There were options listed and corresponding page numbers. I remember reading each path regardless of my choice, thumbing furiously forward and backward through the maze-like stories. In retrospect, I realize this active-reading process was perhaps my first lesson on story structure.”Richard Vogel—AP
Adelle Waldman Portrait Session
Adelle Waldman, Author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. “As a teenager, my favorite author, hands down, was Norma Klein, whom I would describe as Judy Blume for a slightly older set—or Woody Allen for a younger set. Klein wrote wry, psychologically acute novels about the romantic lives of smart New York teenagers. With intelligence and humanity, Klein describes crushes, relationships, sex, breakups and complicated friendships. Equally intriguing to me was the milieu. As someone growing up in the suburbs—who had little to do for fun but go to the mall or the multiplex—the New York Klein described was a revelation: kids took the subway to museums, walked around the Village and saw old movies at art house theaters. I live in New York today, in large part because Norma Klein’s books. She was very prolific until her death in 1989, but for a good taste of her work, try Domestic Arrangements, about a precocious 14-year-old with an eccentric, intellectual family and a steamy love life.”Ulf Andersen—Getty Images
Andy Cohen
Andy Cohen, Author of The Andy Cohen Diaries. “I loved the Encyclopedia Brown books. They were about as butch as I got as a young boy (not that they were even in the same league as The Hardy Boys, which I stayed away from). Simple to understand and there was always a shot you could figure out the mystery on your own.”Charles Sykes—AP
Gillian Fllynn
Gillian Flynn, Author of Gone Girl. “The Westing Game completely charmed me as a kid: the clever mystery, the complex characters (especially the grownups—who knew they had lives too?) and the nasty, fantastic Tabitha Ruth Wexler. I still read it once a year.”M. Spencer Green—AP
Jerry Spinelli, Author of Maniac Magee. "When I was 12 I thought breaking a tackle in sandlot football was the hardest thing a person could do. And then I read Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. It instantly inflated both my worlds. My planet now stretched from the West End of Norristown, PA, to the vast reaches of the Pacific. And the other world—the world of my dreams, my future—swelled to the stars. I remember that I closed the book with a sense of both ending and beginning. He had arrived, he had done it. And I—as if his feat had given me permission—I could launch a voyage of my own. I knew not yet the vessel or the seas, but whatever the destination, I knew I could get there."Courtesy of Penguin Random House
Simon Doonan And NEXXUS Create Window Display At Duane Reade In Tribute To The 2013 Tony Awards
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Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett, Author of Brief Encounters. "I’m told I began reading at age three. I soon fell deeply in love with Rufus M. (1943) by Eleanor Estes—a children’s author and children’s librarian. I’ve assumed it, and she, were long gone. It pains me to learn that she lived well into my later life and that I could have met her and expressed my delight. Damn. Among many laugh-out-loud escapades, small boy Rufus plants beans in his garden to contribute to his not-wealthy family’s dinner table. Sadly, in his intrepid enthusiasm, he couldn’t resist going out at night and digging them up to see how they were doing. The book, still in print, is wonderful. It’s for kids, but certainly not only so. Get it."Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP
Martin Amis at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014
Martin Amis, Author of The Zone of Interest. "I must have read Goodnight Moon to my children several thousand times, and I was never bored by it. The book has its own soporific poetry—and it quite often worked."Pako Mera—AP

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