Why is it Called Pickleball? How did Pickleball Get its Name?

With almost 3 million players in the US alone, Pickleball is steadily gaining popularity and is currently the fastest growing sport in the USA. Today, there are more than 3000 Pickleball courts scattered across the US with tournaments and championships happening on the regular.

The game is also spreading across the world with countries across Europe and Asia slowly learning the game and hosting small tournaments of their own.

A Peculiar Beginning

The game of Pickleball was invented by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. They lived on Bainbridge Island, WA and literally invented the game as a way to combat the complaints of their kids about being bored.

The story goes that the families were set to play a game of badminton but were unable to find a shuttlecock. So instead, they decided to use a Wiffle ball. And since they were using a ball, they couldn’t very well use a badminton racquet, so they switched it out for a ping pong paddle.

Finally, to ensure that their kids would be able play the sport easily, they put a tennis net in the middle of the court. This way, everyone involved would easily be able to send the ball over to the other side.

This set the foundation for Pickleball which led to the development of equipment specific to the game, like Pickleball paddles, perforated balls, and Pickleball nets.

Why ‘Pickleball’?

Ever wondered how the name ‘Pickleball’ came into being? No one (except the inventors) is fully certain how the name came into existence. The main reason for this being that there are two very different stories about the origins of the name, and both claims seem equally plausible.

Story 1: The Boat

Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan was a competitive rower and she claimed that the name pickleball was derived from the term ‘pickle boat’.

Historically, a pickle boat was a fishing boat that would come to dock last. So, the other fishermen would already be ‘pickling’ their fish while the last boat came in. So the term ‘just fell off the pickle boat’ was invented to denote someone who just found out a piece of information that everyone already knew.

However, in competitive rowing, a pickle boat is usually the boat that’s losing the race, often due to a mismatched crew. Joan Pritchard felt that just like this mismatched boat crew, Pickleball combined many mismatched elements of different sports to create something new, hence the name.

Story 2: The Dog

Joel Pritchard’s daughter adopted a cockapoo puppy from a neighbour that was giving away the pups, and decided to name the dog Pickles. The story goes that whenever they would play Pickleball, Pickles would steal the wiffle ball and run off with it. And so, they decided to name the game after the dog and the term ‘Pickleball’ was born.

Which One Is It?

Both stories have been verified by credible sources (the families who invented the sport), but there have been some variances as to which one is true.

The McCallum family (one of the inventors) swears that ‘Pickleball’ was definitely named after the Pritchard’s dog who would steal the ball during their games. Barney McCallum and his son David, along with their neighbour, Dick Brown (one of the first Pickleball players), claim that the game was definitely named after the dog. The McCallum family even talked about how they were spending an evening in the Pritchard’s cabin when the name was decided. They remember the whole group laughing and cheering at the silly name given to the game.

The Other Perspective

On the other hand, Joan Pritchard was certain that Pickleball was named after the pickle boat concept and not their dog. The prime reason being that their dog Pickles wasn’t around until a few years after the game of Pickleball had been invented.

Joan stated that while it was a lot funnier to entertain the thought that the game was named after their dog, Pickles wasn’t around until at least two years after the game was invented, and was in fact, named after the sport.

Joel Pritchard was a well-known politician (with six terms as U.S. representative from Seattle) and his life had a recorded oral history, which was primarily about his political life, but included (interestingly enough) the game of Pickleball!

In this oral history, Joel clearly debunks the myth that the game was named after the dog, stating that in fact, their dog came much later and was named after the sport. But despite repeated requests by the Pritchard family to stop linking their dog to the origins of the game, the newspapers and media at the time sensationalised the fact that a game was named after a dog. It made for better entertainment, and people loved the idea of a game being named after a dog instead of an ambiguous rowing term.

What Really Matters

In essence, it doesn’t really matter where the name came from as the origins of the name have little effect on the rules of the sport. However, most people across the world do not take the name ‘Pickleball’ seriously enough, and this, according to avid Pickleball players, is stunting the growth of the game. While Pickleball is a serious, high-energy, competitive sport that requires skill, the name itself gives it a childish vibe. This has led people to believe that the sport isn’t ‘serious’ or ‘athletic’ enough.

While games like squash, tennis, and badminton are seen as ‘real’ sports, the game of Pickleball is often seen as a ‘lesser’ racquet sport, incapable of holding its own in such a competitive sporting environment.

But even with the stigma attached to the name, the game has seen unimaginable growth in the recent years and will continue to keep spreading across the world. The name may be a slight handicap, but once people get a taste of the game, they’re sure to get hooked!

And whatever the origin story, the Pritchard and McCallum family have done the world a huge favor by inventing the fun, exciting, and gripping game of Pickleball.

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