The origin of the English term "panda" is uncertain. A rather wild guess – the word doesn't mean anything in any known language! – but a possibly close one, is the Nepali word ponya from the phrase nigalya ponya, meaning "eater of bamboo" (or "bamboo-eating animal"). The Chinese names for the Giant Panda have been many and range from"spotted bear" (hua xiong, in pinyin) to "bamboo bear" (zhu xiong) to "large bear cat" (dà xióng māo) to "bear cat" (xióng māo), though the latter two are linguistically misleading, since the imply a kind of cat with bear-like features. It turns out that in the local language of Taiwan, folk do rearrange this word order, referring to the panda as the "cat bear" (māo xióng), which fits better with the first two names above.
There are a couple of obvious reasons for the reference to a cat-like appearance: the pupils of the panda's eyes are cat-like vertical slits, and the tiny infant panda (amazing that such a large creature arrives in the world not much longer than a regular hotdog and weighing a mere 150 grams/ 5.25 ounces), spends the first 6-8 weeks with its eyes closed (of course, not only kittens, but also puppies spend their first few days with their eyes closed), and, as well, despite the newborn panda's lack of hair, it resembles a fragile kitten, also with its long tail, which shortens as the infant becomes a toddler, as it were.