For 90 years, the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and his friends have been delighting audiences around the world. But where did he get such an unusual name? He’s obviously a bear, so why is he called Winnie “the Pooh”? What exactly is a “Pooh”? (Keep your mind out of the gutter). And why “Winnie”?
The story begins with English author A. A. Milne and his real-life son, Christopher Robin Milne. The Winnie the Pooh stories were modeled after a set of stuffed animals owned by the real Christopher Robin. He named them Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore, and Roo.
The Real Winnie Bear
Christopher Robin named his stuffed bear “Winnie the Pooh” after Winnie, a Canadian black bear he often saw at the London Zoo.
Winnie was a popular addition to the zoo during World War I, with a story an interesting backstory all her own. In 1914, Lt. Harry Colebourn of the Canadian Army Veterinarian Corps (CAVC) purchased the bear cub at a train stop in Ontario for $20. Presumably the cub’s mother had been killed when she was very young. Colebourn named the bear cub “Winnipeg” — “Winnie” for short — after his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Winnie eventually became the mascot for the CAVC and accompanied Colebourn all the way to England. Before leaving for reassignment in France, Colebourn left Winnie with the London Zoo.
Her final home was intended to be the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, but after the war Colebourn decided to let her stay at the London Zoo. She had become a much-loved figure among the citizens of England’s capital city. And she even inspired young Christopher Robin Milne to change the name of his stuffed bear from Edward Bear to Winnie-the-Pooh (the hyphens were dropped when Disney purchased the rights in 1966).
So that explains the “Winnie” part, but what about “Pooh”? There’s a much simpler explanation behind that part of the famous bear’s name. Pooh was the name of a swan the Milne family had met while on holiday. Now, as to how a swan acquired a name like “Pooh” or why Christopher Robin would choose to name his bear Winnie “the Pooh,” there are no answers.
The Fictional Winnie the Pooh
Of course, that origin gives the story of the how the real-life Winnie the Pooh got his name, but what about his fictional counterpart? After all, there are no Canadian black bears or swans in the Hundred Acre Wood. In the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne’s original 1926 book about the character, he offers this explanation:
“But his arms were so stiff … they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh.”
Christopher Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh, Kanga, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet toys are on display at the New York Public Library in New York, where they recently received a facelift to restore them to them original condition.