Most fans of the Winnie the Pooh books, movies, or television series are likely aware that the titular character is often referred to as “he” or a “him.” But in June 2018, many readers were shocked to come across a childhood-shattering rumor that Winnie the Pooh had actually been a girl bear all along:
This rumor largely came from a 2015 book called Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear about the real-life inspiration for the character, a beloved (female) bear named Winnipeg who lived at the London Zoo. At the time, many outlets reported on the revelation made in this book with misleading titles such as “New Children’s Book Reveals Winnie The Pooh Is A Girl.” As the BBC explained:
He is referred to as “he” in AA Milne’s books and in the Disney cartoons his voice has always been provided by a man.
But, it turns out that the real-life bear he is named after, was actually a female black bear named Winnie.
Christopher Robin, son of AA Milne and star of the books and cartoons, had called his teddy Winnie, having seen the actual bear a number of times in London Zoo.
There’s plenty of evidence that A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh character as a boy bear. For one thing, the character is referred to as “he” throughout Milne’s stories. Furthermore, the real stuffed animal with which the real Christopher Robin played (who was also A.A. Milne’s son) was originally named “Edward”:
The curious name of Winnie-the-Pooh came from Christopher Robin, from a combination of the names of a real bear and a pet swan. During the 1920s there was a black bear named Winnie in the London Zoo who had been the mascot for the Winnipeg regiment of the Canadian army. Pooh was the name of a swan in When We Were Very Young.
Pooh was purchased at Harrods department store in London and given by A. A. Milne to his son Christopher Robin on his first birthday, August 21, 1921. He was called Edward (proper form of Teddy) Bear at the time.
A.A. Milne even introduced the character as “Edward Bear” in the book Winnie the Pooh before noting that he was known to his friends as Winnie-the-Pooh (“or Pooh for short”):
Edward Bear, known to his friends as Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself. He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises in front of the glass: Tra-la-la, tra-la-la, as he stretched up as high as he could go, and then Tra-la-la, tra-la – oh, help! – la, as he tried to reach his toes.
Another passage explains how he received the name Winnie. When Christopher Robin is asked why he gave the bear the name Winnie if it was a boy, he retorts that that he named the bear “Winnie-ther-Pooh,” not Winnie (or even Winnie-the-Pooh):
HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.
And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t. Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you. Winnie-the-Pooh.
When I first heard his name, I said, just as you are going to say, “But I thought he was a boy?”
“So did I,” said Christopher Robin.
“Then you can’t call him Winnie?”
“But you said—”
“He’s Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don’t you know what ‘ther’ means?”
“Ah, yes, now I do,” I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it is all the explanation you are going to get.