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Richard Parker's name came from an actual event that occured during the late 1800s. The real Richard Parker was a young cabin boy who was shipwrecked with three sailors and murdered to provide food for the starving men.
I realize this question is old, but in the actual story, not any background information, Richard Parker was the name of the hunter who found the tiger cub. The tiger cub was named Thirsty, but when the tiger was shipped to the zoo, the names were switched on the paper work.