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I'm pretty sure that a hunter named Richard Parker had baptized the tiger with the name "Thirsty". The paper-work got mixed up and the two names got switched. Apparently nobody wanted to correct the problem. The hunter and the hunted switched identities!
Richard Parker is on the boat with Pi when it sinks, and together they live with the help of a lifeboat. I think your teacher wanted you to research this, so I did a bit of digging. Yann Martel wrote an entire novel entitles, "How Richard Parker Got His Name." The following is his own answer.
First, Richard Parker was the name of a young man shipwrecked in 1884. Stranded in a dinghy, the four survivors of the yacht Migonette decided that they'd die without food, and that one of them would have to become the food that was necessary. The victim was cabin boy Rochard Parker; he was seventeen.
The second reason he chose Richard Parker was after a character in an Edgar Allen Poe story. In that novel there is also a shipwreck and another instance of cannibalism. The victim in the novel was named Richard Parker.
The third reason is much the same, another shipwreck, this time in 1846, was the Francis Speight. Again, the crew was reduced to cannibalism, and again the victim was named Richard Parker.
Martel concedes that there were just too many coincidences, and he had to use the name for his tiger. Thanks for this, I enjoyed looking for this!