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Babar is a fictional elephant, featuring in stories by Jean de Brunhoff and later his son. The name "Babar" is similar to baba, a word originally meaning "father" but used as an honorific in many Asian countries, and also similar to Babur, a Mughal emperor whose name is sometimes transliterated as Babar (apparently the predominance of the name Babur is to avoid confusion with the elephant!), but both of these are names originating in Asia while evidence points (mostly) to Babar being an African elephant. Slightly less similar to "Babar" is the word Berber, used for an ethnic group in parts of Africa that were colonised by France, who prefer to be known as Amazigh people.

What is the origin of Babar's name? Is there any word from the author on how he came up with the name, or evidence from the books or historical/cultural context on what likely inspired it?

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First bébé éléphant (baby elephant), then Babar, presumably as a corruption.

So captivated was Jean de Brunhoff by the story his sons related to him that he immediately began to sketch the animal that the family at first called simply bebe elephant. The name Babar came out of nowhere, de Brunhoff said, but soon his father was filling a big spiral notebook with whimsical stories and pictures.

WaPo - BABAR, REBORN IN THE U.S.A

and

"She told us about a little elephant whose mother is killed and he escapes to the city, dresses as a human being, and then returns to the forest. The next day we repeated the story to my father - a painter at that time - he was very excited and started to do a book for us.

"He developed the story, added the character of the Old Lady and invented the name Babar because in my mother's story it was Bebe."

Telegraph Online - Elephants and old masters

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  • Interestingly, the Kansas City Times confidently states that de Brunhoff's wife named Babar after the Emperor Babar, but I can't see the full article, only the snippet. This also conflicts heavily with his son's published interviews.
    – Valorum
    May 18 at 17:11

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