The story of the Three Bears and their intruder has been around much longer than Goldilocks herself. The tale has apparently been around for at least two centuries, but with a different intruder in its earliest incarnations.
The earliest recorded version of the tale was found quite recently in 1951 in a collection of early children's books in the Toronto Public Library. The story was published in a homemade book titled, The Story of The Three Bears metrically related, with illustrations locating it at Cecil Lodge in September 1831. Apparently an aunt, Eleanor Mure, had written the story in verse and illustrated it for her nephew from the story she already knew through oral tradition. Mure's version of the tale featured an old woman who intrudes into the bears' home, sampling their food and other amenities (Opie 1974, 199-200).
We do know which recorded version of the tale has been the most influential upon later versions of the tale. It was published by Robert Southey in 1837 in his collection of essays titled, The Doctor. The fourth volume contained the story, "Story of the Three Bears." This version has been so influential that for a time it was thought to be the origin of the story before proof of the earlier versions was discovered by scholars. The tale had never been so widely published before and was assumed to be Southey's original creation. Southey's version featured an old woman as the intruder, so this story was not quite yet like the version best known today (Opie 1974, 199-200).
Another early version of the story is Scrapefoot, which features a fox by the title name and is well-known in England. Some scholars, such as Joseph Jacobs, suppose this may be the earliest variant with the old woman in Southey's version mistakenly replacing the fox/vixen through the simple confusion between the terms for a harridan, old woman, or she-fox. Perhaps we will never know which came first, the old woman or the fox (Opie 1974, 199-200).
Twelve years after Southey's story was first published, Joseph Cundall changed the old woman into a young girl named 'Silver Hair' in the version he published in his Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children (1849). He apparently felt there were too many stories with old women, and wanted to present a young girl in the story instead, perhaps for didactic reasons. Then in 1858 the character was dubbed 'Silver-Locks' in Aunt Mavor's Nursery Tales. Next she became 'Golden Hair' around 1868 in Aunt Friendly's Nursery Book. Finally, in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes, illustrated by John Hassall (circa 1904), she became Goldilocks. The name stuck and has been used the most often ever since (Opie 1974, 199-200).
To read more about its history, please see the Opies' introduction to the tale in:
Opie, Iona and Peter. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
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