Bear in mind that Winnie-The-Pooh was a self-described “Bear of Very Little Brain.” I am here to suggest otherwise. Reminiscent of infamous serial-killer H.H. Holmes, Pooh’s series of name-changes actually seems to belie a certain, deliberate intellect, further proving Pooh to possess a name of not insignificant linguistical value.
Known initially by those closest to him as Edward Bear, Pooh began his perceived transition into the epicene when his friend, Christopher Robin, renamed him after a vivacious North American female black bear at the London Zoo called Winnie, a former resident of Winnipeg, Canada.
Winnie may indeed act as a sobriquet for the masculine name “Winston,” but Winnie more backhands as short for the feminine Winifred. Winifred derives from the Anglo-Saxon Wine (friend, lord, protector) and Friþ (peace, refuge, sanctuary). Saint Winifred comes to mind. Mr. Pooh is therefore connoted as a “protector of the peace.”
“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 that you do too, because it is all the explanation that you are going to get.
Connotations however abound, Mr. Winnie-The-Pooh is indeed a gent through and through, the conundrum solved by way of a brief investigation of the rhotic language distinction, the beloved schwa, and the English honorifics system.
British English is primarily a non-rhotic language, which means that, unless an r-sound is to come before a pronounced vowel, such as in the word “red,” the r-sound is dropped. American English, due to its formative population of Scotch-Irish settlers, is primarily rhotic, which means that it almost always, except for some cases in the south and New England, pronounces the r-sound. Americans are also famous for the schwa sound, a loose vowel utterance not found in British English, which sounds like uhh, and is most readily produced by conjuring one’s most troglodytic of ancestral memories, as when an American is asking for more “buhhdder.”
Prior to the Phonetic Alphabet, any self-respecting non-rhotic British writer would denote the schwa-sound with the hesitation marker /r/, which stresses the word “the” by lengthening the schwa sound, providing certainty of Pooh’s masculine title: Winnie-ThUH-Pooh.
Names with “the” in the middle are mostly masculine. We might perceive, then, a child’s imagination to work by adding “the” to transform the feminine Winnie into a masculine title. We may now understand that Christopher Robin was prefixing his honey-addicted, ursine companion with a masculine honorific, much like that of Alfred The Great’s.