The name "Peter Cottontail" originated in the pages of Thorton Burgess' series of "Old Mother West Wind" books, of which the first book was published in 1910. The "Old Mother West Wind" books featured animals as characters, among them Peter Rabbit (not to be confused with Beatrix Potter's character of the same name). For whatever reason Peter Rabbit's name would later be changed to "Peter Cottontail." He would be the star of his own book, The Adventures of Peter Cottontail (published in 1921), in which he ultimately returns to his original name of "Peter Rabbit."
It was in 1950 that Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins composed the song "Here Comes Peter Cottontail." The two composers asked Gene Autry, fresh from his success with "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," to record the song. It would prove to be a hit, going to #3 on the Billboard Country chart and to #5 on the Billboard singles chart. Since then the song has become an Easter standard, to the point that "Peter Cottontail" is identified with the Easter Bunny. Here it must be pointed out that the Easter Hare/Easter Bunny traditionally had no other name than "Easter Hare" or "Easter Bunny," and that Thornton Burgess never identified Peter Rabbit/Peter Cottontail as the Easter Hare/Easter Bunny.