Sunday, June 7, 2020

The naming of polar bear cubs

Mother Malik with one of her two cubs at Aalborg Zoo
Photo by Jeanette Johnsen

We have had quite a population explosion of polar bear cubs this season, and they have been making their public debuts, maybe a little late due to the corona virus, and getting names. I have counted a dozen cubs in Europe, and one in the USA. I think there were two born in Russia as well.

I thought it would be a good idea to list the new cubs with their names, in the order of their birth. There are four boys and nine girls.

Three of the cubs were fathered by the Russian bear Nord. In Copenhagen, he fathered Imaq last year. This year he fathered Noel's daughter Inuvik in Copenhagen, then moved on to Aalborg Zoo where he lingered long enough to father twin girls with Malik, and now he is living in Skandinavisk Dyrepark. Maybe more Nord cubs next year? 

Since I haven't been able to travel, I rely on photos from my polar bear friends, and the facebook pages of the zoos.

Finja. Photo from the  Zoo Vienna Schönbrunn facebook page
(1) The first cub of the season was born to Nora and Ranzo in Zoo Schoenberg in Vienna, on November 9, 2019. She has been named Finja (pronounced Feenya). An American connection: Ranzo's grandmother was CW, born in the Memphis Zoo. CW was sister of Chinook, mother of Seneca Park Zoo's Aurora; Anana of the Cincinnati Zoo, now in Detroit; and Denali in Japan.

(2) Milana in Hannover had a cub with Sprinter as the father on November 20, 2019. The little girl has been named Nana. An American connection: Sprinter's mother is Freedom, grandaughter of CW, born at the Memphis Zoo. Again, some American cousins.

Yuka, the boy, and Yura, the girl, at Ouwehands.
Photo from the zoo's facebook page
Yuka and Yura
(3-4) November 27,  2019, Freedom had twins with the Russian born Wolodja at Ouwehands in lthe Netherlands. Yuka is the boy, Yura is the girl. American connection: Freedom's grandmother was CW, born at the Memphis Zoo.  More American cousins.


Kulu and his mom Aurora at the Columbus Zoo.
 From the Columbus Zoo facebook page
(5) In the U.S.A, the only cub born this season is Kulu, son of Aurora and Lee, in the Columbus Zoo, on November 28, 2019. This is a fourth cub for Aurora, a first for Lee.


Imaq and Inuk at Aalborg Zoo. Photo by Jeanette Johnsen
Inuk and Imaq
(6-7) Malik had triplets on December 5, 2019, but lost one, so now it is twin girls in Aalborg, with father Nord. They now have names Inuk and Imaq. This may end up being rather confusing, as Nord fathered a daughter named Imaq with Lynn in Copenhagen the previous year. 


Mother Noel and baby Inuvik, on her first day out.
Photo by the Copenhagen Zoo
(8) Noel gave birth to another of Nord's daughters on December 6. The little white bundle has been named Inuvik. She is quite the handful for mother Noel and the keepers. 


Elsa and Anna at Zoo am Meer. Photo by Birgit Born.
Anna and Elsa
(9-10) In Zoo Am Meer in Bremerhaven, Germany, Valeska and Lloyd had twins on December 8, 2019. They have gotten wonderful names for little ice princess sisters, Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen.


Flocke's triplets. Photo from Marineland's facebook page
Indiana, Yuma and Tala
(11-12-13) Sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, Flocke and Raspi had triplets in Marineland, Antibes, France.  The two boys are Indiana and Yuma, and the girl is Tala. Father Rasputin has relocated at Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the UK.

Choosing names

I believe that every cub should be given a unique name, and that is often the case. Sometimes zoos don't think beyond their own facility, and don't worry about duplicating names, but we all know that almost every cub born in a zoo will move on to another zoo. It's nice if they each have their own unique name, since each bear is special. But it also prevents confusion. What if bears with the same name end up living at the same zoo?

In the USA, with a population of just 44 bears, there are three polar bears with the name of Anana, and people struggle sometimes to keep them straight.  

In my files, I find seven Snowballs, five Olafs and four Olgas, although all are gone now. There have been seven Auroras, with two in Canada and one in Columbus is still around. In fact the Aurora in Columbus is the mother of the only zoo cub we have this year in the Western Hemisphere.

There is an American Siku, born in Toledo Ohio, whose Belgium born mother Crystal is sister of Blanche, grandmother to Danish Siku, so these two Sikus, although on different continents, are close cousins. 

A third Siku was born in Ouwehands in the Netherlands with twin sister Sesi, but when he moved to France, his name was changed to Taiko, maybe so he would have his very own name.

Another overused name is Nanuk, Nanuq or Nanook, used for both male and female bears. I have counted at least 13 Nanuqs and variants of that name. 

A few years ago, the American wildborn Nanuq fathered twins in the Columbus Zoo, and the son was name Nuniq, as a variation and a tribute to his father, but still an original name.

Over the years, some bears are named after their fathers, as in Herman, and Herman II.

When Huggies had triplets in Ouwehands, the cubs were named Henk, Ewa and Jelle after the three keepers, which is a lovely tribute.

A few years ago, Frimas gave birth to twins, who were thought to be boys, and they were named after a popular Dutch singing duo, Nick and Simon. When the cubs turned out to be girls after all, their names were changed slightly, the Nicky and Simona.

There have been some instances of names being given in response to a business sponsorship, as with Kimberly Clark sponsoring the rescue of Huggies, the car company Mercedes sponsoring the rescue of problem Canadian bear Mercedes and her relocation to Scotland, and little soccer playing Hertha in Berlin. And  Kometa in Zoo Brno, in honor of their local soccer team.

In a touching tribute, Little Charlotte of Nuremberg (Hannover, now Karlsruhe) was named in honor of a devoted polar bear fan who had passed away. 

Zoos often run contests to name the cubs, with the choices narrowed down for voting. And zoos often have a celebration to announce the name, with big colorful banners and treats for the mother and cub(s). 

The bears have their public names, recorded in the studbook with unique numbers, and every bear gets a microchip so they won't get the bears mixed up.

I have also heard tell that keepers have their own secret names for the bears so they can get the bears' attention, and the public doesn't know these special names.

All the zoos with new cubs have already opened or will do so by the end of June. Those months of quietly playing and growing without fans are mostly over. Due to the pandemic, I cannot visit the European cubs for awhile, but very soon I will check up on Kulu in Columbus, not far away at all.


  1. В России в Якутске в декабре 2019 г родился белый медвежонок - мальчик..Родители Колымана и Ломоносов.

  2. Molly Thank your for this report on the cubs of 2020. We were both hoping to meet some of them.
    I agree that keepers have their own names for the bears. The most famous was Maeuschen (Little Mouse) used by Knut"s keeper. Then of course there is the name the mother Polar gives them..

  3. Dear Molly!
    Thank you for this wonderful 'polarpedia'. It's sometimes (in my case very often!) difficult to remember all the names so I will visit this site regularly! :-)
    Hugs from Mervi