We now have a Bei Bei to go with Bao Bao in the giant pandas’ compound at the National Zoo.
First lady Michelle Obama and the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, announced Friday that the zoo’s month-old male giant panda will be named Bei Bei, which means “precious treasure.”
Bei Bei (pronounced “Bay Bay”) joins his 2-year-old sister, Bao Bao, whose name means roughly the same thing and is pronounced “Bow Bow.”
The zoo said it scrapped a Chinese tradition, used for Bao Bao, of naming a newborn 100 days after its birth in favor of involving the two first ladies in person in the naming process.
Dennis Kelly, the zoo’s director, said before the ceremony that “it’s a very exciting day because it celebrates more than four decades of research and success on the giant panda, and to have it recognized by the two first ladies is an honor.”
“But most important, we’re celebrating the continued success of the survival of the species,” he added.
The name was chosen by the first ladies from a list of suggestions offered by officials at the zoo and in China. “Bei Bei” was suggested by the Chinese.
Kelly said the new cub is “doing great. In fact, it’s bigger than our other two cubs were at this stage. A big, fat cub. That’s what we want.”
Officials said the cub weighs about three pounds, 10 times what he weighed when he was born Aug. 22. His eyes are not yet open, but he has become more mobile and can scoot around using his front legs.
At Friday’s ceremony, Peng — who is in town on a state visit with her husband, Chinese President Xi Jinping — called the panda cub “absolutely adorable.”
“We do need more bonds to bring the people of our two countries ever more closer, and the giant panda [is] one of those bonds that we can celebrate to achieve that goal,” Peng said.
“Michelle and I have . . . chosen a nice name for it, and I’m certain that it will bring good luck.”
The two first ladies untied ribbons around scrolls that bore the new name in Chinese and in English.
At the ceremony, a panda cam screen in the background showed live video of the mother, Mei Xiang, nuzzling her cub inside a den.
As VIPs waited for the ceremony to begin, a hefty Bao Bao, no longer a cub, entered the panda yard and dismantled a pagoda-shaped panda cake. The cake was made of fruit and ice and is basically a popsicle for pandas, according to zoo staff.
Also at the event was new Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton as well as students from the Yu Ying Chinese immersion public charter school in Washington, who performed for the first ladies.
A host of Chinese and U.S. dignitaries were also present, including benefactor David Rubenstein, who recently announced a $4.5 million donation to the giant panda program.
Mei Xiang was inseminated in the spring with semen from a panda in China and from the zoo’s male panda, Tian Tian. In August, she gave birth to a pair of cubs. One of the cubs died when it was 4 days old after it inhaled some food product, which led to pneumonia.
The pandas have generated millions of visitors — both in person and online, with a live video feed marking their movements. During the contest to determine Bao Bao’s name, more than 123,000 votes come in from around the world.
“I love the new name,” said Kelly, the zoo director. “It’s going to be a great name to complement ‘Bao Bao’ — easy to pronounce.”
China owns and leases all giant pandas in U.S. zoos, and by agreement, any cubs born here are taken to China when they reach 4 years old.