Why Is It Called Pickleball? Discover the Story Behind the Name

Pickleball – The name itself sparks curiosity. It’s a fun-sounding word for a fast-growing sport, but where did it come from? Does it have anything to do with actual pickles?  This article dives into the origins of the name, make clear the question: “Why is it called Pickleball?” and explores the theories behind this delightful yet puzzling moniker. So, grab your paddle and get ready to unravel the mystery behind the name of America’s favorite new sport.

The History Of Pickleball

In the sunny summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, three friends made history without even knowing it. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were simply looking for a new game to entertain their families.


Origins and Founders

Joel Pritchard, a U.S. Congressman, and his neighbor Bill Bell found themselves with no shuttlecock for their planned badminton game. Equipped with just an available badminton net and a few wooden paddles, improvisation became their friend. They found a perforated plastic ball, akin to a Wiffle ball, and pickleball was inadvertently born.

Barney McCallum joined their ranks soon after, and the trio refined the game, adjusting the court dimensions and formalizing the rules. This laid the foundation for what we now know as pickleball, which intriguingly combines elements of other racket sports:

  • Badminton – The game’s origin was inspired by a badminton setup.
  • Ping Pong – The paddles they used were originally ping pong paddles.
  • Tennis – The net’s height and pickled ball borrow from tennis mechanics.

Their innovation ensured the game was simple to play yet engaging, promoting social interaction and physical activity. Initially calling it “paddlesport,” the name never caught on. It was the involvement of Pritchard’s daughter (and perhaps their pet dog) that finally led to the name “pickleball.”

Readmore: History of Pickleball

The Two Main Theories

The Dog Story

One widely accepted theory credits Joel Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, for bestowing the sport its unique name. According to this charming narrative:

  1. Pickle the Dog: Pickles would eagerly chase after the balls, becoming a lively part of the games.
  2. Family Humor: The Pritchard family joked about the game being “Pickles’ ball,” intertwining the playful nature of the dog with the sport.
  3. Mascot Influence: This story, championed by McCallum’s family and the Browns (early players), imbues the name with an endearing, almost mascot-like quality.

However, as enchanting as this theory sounds, skeptics point out inconsistencies:

  • Timeline Sensitivity: Pickles, the dog, supposedly entered the Pritchard family after the game had been named, leading to doubts about the veracity of this tale.
  • Joan & Daughter’s Confirmation: Both Joel Pritchard’s wife and daughter stated that Pickles the dog was, in fact, named after the game, not the other way around.

The Pickle Boat Story

An alternative theory, stemming from Joan Pritchard’s rowing background, offers a different origin narrative:

  • Pickle Boat Term: In rowing, a “pickle boat” consists of leftover rowers from different boats, juxtaposing mismatched players working cohesively.
  • Joan Pritchard’s Insight: As she likened the composite nature of pickleball (a mix of different sports) to a pickle boat, the name seemed particularly fitting.
  • Publication Evidence: Joan documented this connection in a newspaper article, reinforcing its credibility.

Weighing the Evidence

The debate persists, with conflicting accounts from the Pritchard and McCallum families. Analyzing the evidence:

  • Oral Histories: Joel Pritchard himself denied the dog story on record.
  • Chronological Gaps: The absence of the dog initially undercuts its role in the naming process.
  • Primary Sources: Joan Pritchard’s written account carries considerable weight, suggesting the metaphorical allure of a pickle boat was indeed the inspiration.

Regardless of which story one leans towards, the playful and charming origin myths are emblematic of the sport’s light-hearted, fun nature.

Beyond The Name: A Sport’s Enduring Appeal

Despite its quirky name, pickleball has transcended its whimsical beginnings to become an unbelievably popular sport. Its exponential growth can be attributed to several factors:

Accessibility and Simplicity

  1. Low Barrier Entry: Unlike more demanding sports like tennis, pickleball is beginner-friendly and can be picked up quickly by people of all ages.
  2. Equipment: The necessary equipment is straightforward and inexpensive paddle, ball, net making the sport accessible.
  3. Family-Friendly: Its non-strenuous nature allows multi-generational play, from grandparents to grandchildren.

Community and Connectivity

  1. Social Aspect: As a doubles-based game in many cases, it encourages social interaction, building a sense of community.
  2. Inclusive Nature: Pickleball is increasingly inclusive, catering to people with varying levels of physical ability.
  3. Recreational and Competitive Levels: It offers enjoyment at various levels, from casual backyard games to organized tournaments.

Holistic Physical and Mental Benefits

  1. Cardiovascular Exercise: Provides a good cardio workout, enhancing overall fitness.
  2. Mental Agility: Strategy, attention, and quick reflexes sharpen mental faculties.
  3. Stress Relief: Promotes relaxation and enjoyment, important for mental well-being.

Brand and Cultural Identity

  1. Unique Branding: The peculiar name has become a vital branding element, differentiating it in a crowded sports landscape.
  2. Merchandising: Quirky merchandise and tournaments capitalize on the name’s unique appeal.
  3. Cultural Penetration: Increased media coverage, celebrity endorsements, and even social media have fueled its cultural footprint.

Pickleball’s allure lies in how it turns the ‘obscure’ into ‘mainstream entertainment,’ enjoying an appeal that reaches beyond enthusiast circles to general populaces.

The Legacy of the Name: A Lasting Connection

Why has the name “pickleball” endured so effectively over the years? Let’s delve into the lasting impact of the nomenclature and the community’s embrace.

The Stickiness Factor

  1. Memorable Names: Names that evoke curiosity or humor tend to stick in people’s minds, and “pickleball” is no exception.
  2. Word-of-Mouth: Its unique name encourages conversations and questions, spreading the game organically.
  3. Nostalgia: Like many branded with playful monikers, the name carries sentimental weight, linking players back to its roots and the fun nature of its beginnings.

Community Embrace and Evolution

  1. Community Culture: The community fervently embraces the name, contributing to its legacy. Pickleball tournaments often incorporate themes and jokes related to pickles, reinforcing communal bonds.
  2. Merchandising: The name’s quirky nature lends itself to creative merchandising from pickled paddle designs to pickle-shaped trophies.
  3. Media Attention: As media coverage grows, the name’s story gets retold, continuously reviving interest and preserving its heritage.

Renaming Discussions

There have been speculations about renaming to lend it more seriousness in competitive sporting contexts. However, such moves have been staunchly resisted:

  • Preserving Identity: The community sees the name as an essence of the sport’s identity, culture, and history.
  • Popularity Argument: Given its rapid adoption and popularity, changing the name now might strip it of its recognized brand.
  • Modern Appeal: Even mainstream competitive sports have accepted unique names, proving that uniqueness doesn’t hinder legitimacy.

Ultimately, the name “pickleball” remains an integral, cherished part of the sport’s identity a name that, against all odds, has come to symbolize joy, community, and accessibility.

Common Questions

Addressing Rumors

Is there any truth to the rumors about how the name “pickleball” came about? As highlighted, while the dog story is endearing and popular, the pickle boat origin finds more grounding in documented evidence by Joan Pritchard. Consequently:

  • Corrections Over Time: As more historical clarifications surfaced, the pickle boat origin has gained mainstream acceptance, albeit dog Pickles continues to charm newcomers.

Other Quirky Sports Names

Pickleball isn’t alone in having an unusual name. Here are a few other sports with quirky names:

  1. Cornhole: A lawn game of bean-bag tossing into a platform hole. The name boasts community roots with whimsical flair.
  2. Bossaball: A volleyball variation that combines gymnastics and capoeira, played on an inflatable court. Its rhythmic name mirrors its lively gameplay.
  3. Sepak Takraw: Combines volleyball and soccer. The name, derived from Malay and Thai languages, adds cultural flair.

What Makes a Good Sports Name?

So, does “pickleball” fit the bill?

  1. Uniqueness: Check. It stands out without ambiguity.
  2. Memorability: Check. It piques curiosity and remains in one’s memory.
  3. Communal Connection: Check. It encapsulates community spirit, history, and playfulness.

In every way, “pickleball” turns its unique name from an initial quirk to a badge of honor, celebrating the sport’s whimsical yet rich heritage.


What is the most important lesson to be learned from the story behind the name “pickleball”? Above all, pickleball’s quirky origins underscore how simplicity, creativity, and community can birth something globally resonant. The name embodies not just the fun and friendly rivalry enjoyed by its founders but also the game’s core values accessibility, social connectivity, and lightheartedness.

While the exact origin of “pickleball” may remain a charming mystery, its playful name only adds to the sport’s magic and allure, making it even more lovable. Understanding this history enriches our appreciation for pickleball, inviting us to unite under this peculiarly charming banner, one paddle swing at a time.

To truly grasp the spirit behind the name “pickleball,” why not grab a paddle and join the ranks of millions who find joy in this delightful sport? Share your thoughts or even your origin theories with the vibrant pickleball community. You never know your own pickleball tale might add another layer to this sport’s enchanting narrative!