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Teddy Bear picnic

How did the teddy bear get its name?

Have you ever asked yourself why of all the ferocious animals in the world, humans chose bears to accompany their sleeping children to bed? The teddy bear has certainly made bears seem more cuddly and approachable than they were formerly regarded. But where did the name teddy come from? To celebrate Teddy Bear Picnic Day, let’s have a look…

A. A. Milne playfully addressed this question in When We Were Very Young (1924): ‘is it Mr. Edward Bear?’ Teddy is indeed a pet form of the Christian names Edward, Edmund, and Theodore. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) currently records the term teddy bear as being first used in 1906, and it is thought to have been named in humorous allusion to Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, president of the United States of America from 1901-1909.

But why was President Roosevelt associated with a bear? Roosevelt was a keen bear-hunter and his bear-hunting expeditions subsequently led to a celebrated comic poem, accompanied by cartoons, appearing in the New York Times in January 1906. This poem detailed the adventures of two bears named ‘Teddy B’ and ‘Teddy G’ and in the same year the poem published two bears named thus (also known as the ‘Roosevelt bears’) were presented to Bronx Zoo. Inevitably the fame of these bears was capitalized on by toy dealers, whose toy ‘Roosevelt bears’, imported from Germany, became instantly fashionable in the US. Indeed it wasn’t long before the teddy bear itself was famous enough for teddy bear to be used to describe a person’s appearance or one being lovable as can be seen in John Le Carré’s first novel Call for Dead (1961), to take an early example: His débutante secretary..referred to ‘My darling teddy-bear’.

This post is an excerpt from a longer post about the language of bears. 

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