Pickleball is a sport that combines ping-pong, badminton, and tennis. Its name is unusual and a little enigmatic. We explore how did pickleball get its name, looking at its beginnings, conflicting tales, and unique appeal that has drawn in millions of fans.
When I tell people I play pickleball, they usually laugh at the term since it sounds strange for a sport. Sometimes, I must convince them it’s a legit and enjoyable sport. However, it’s essential to note that pickleball is gaining significant traction, with over 36.5 million players in the U.S. and numerous tournaments and leagues nationwide.
How did pickleball get its name?
Despite its rising popularity, people are still curious about the peculiar name of pickleball. So, let’s satisfy that curiosity and bring some clarity to our readers by diving into the origins and background of this sport’s unique moniker. Ready to unravel the mystery of how pickleball got its name? Let’s explore!
The beginning of pickleball could be more precise because there are two main stories: the dog and boat stories. The founders have shared these stories over the years, but each side insists their version is authentic. It’s like having two different tales about how it all started!
Joel Prichard, Barney McCallum, and a few other neighbors invented the game in the summer of 1965. The two conflicting versions of name origin stories arise from the Prichard family (boat story) and the McCallums (dog story).
Story #1: Pickles the dog:
Joel Prichard’s daughter and their neighbor, Jim Brown, got a free Cockapoo puppy from a neighbor who was giving away puppies. The Prichards named the puppy “Pickles.”
As the story goes, when they started playing the new racquet game, later named pickleball, Pickles, the dog developed a habit of grabbing the plastic Wiffle ball with its mouth and running off the court. Making it a fun game of catch
According to the McCallums (and the Browns, who were among the first pickleball players), the new sport was named after the dog. They claim to recall the precise night they named it after “Pickles,” the dog, while sitting in the living room of the Prichard cabin, and they even recall cheering with delight when they came up with this funny name for their new game.
According to the McCallum family and the Browns, some of the first pickleball players, the sport was named after the dog. They remember the exact night they chose the name while sitting in the living room of the Prichard cabin. They even recall cheering with excitement when they came up with this funny name for their new game.
Several people from the early history of the game, including Barney McCullum, his son David, Dick Brown, and his son Jim Brown, have been interviewed and still stand by this story.
Story #2: The Pickle Boat
Another story about how pickleball got its name is the “pickle boat” story. The Prichard family says that Joel’s wife, Joan, who used to compete in rowing, came up with pickleball, drawing inspiration from the resemblance to a pickleboat.
She wrote the following in the Parkersburg, West Virginia News & Sentinel News:
Wait … a pickle boat?
I rowed crew in college and had never heard the term, so it seemed a little strange, but after some research, people refer to weaker, mismatched crew boat teams as a “pickle boat.”
There’s a bit of a problem with the “dog story.” Joan Prichard and her daughter, Peggy Pritchard-Olson, have mentioned that “Pickles” wasn’t even there until a few years after they came up with the game. So, the timing doesn’t match the McCallum family’s version in the video we discussed earlier.
Joan Prichard, quoted once again in the News and Sentinel, stated:
“Somehow, the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the game’s naming, but Pickles wasn’t on the scene for two more years. The dog was named for the game, but stories about the name’s origin were funnier thinking the game was named for the dog.”
According to journalist Tristan Baurick, Prichard’s daughter confirmed this in 2005.
“It was not named after the dog because we got it years after the game started. The dog was named after the game. Not the other way around.”
Joel Pritchard, a renowned politician with six terms as a U.S. Representative from Seattle and two terms as lieutenant governor of Washington, has a recorded oral history of his life conducted by the Washington State Secretary of State Oral History Project.
While the project primarily focuses on his political career, it also covers other aspects, including the early days of pickleball. In this oral history, Joel Pritchard is quoted debunking the “Pickles the Dog” story.
Pritchard dispelled the widely circulated myth that the game was named after Pickles; according to him, the dog came into the picture later and was named after the game.
Even though many people told him to go with the other story because it was more convincing, Pritchard chose to stick to his version. (“Oral History,” 402).
Even though three Prichard family members said the “Pickles” story isn’t true, the dog tale is still famous. People talk about it in newspapers and online, making it the main story in pickleball circles. Folks like the idea of the dog being the star, even if the family disagrees.
Some believe the “pickle boat” story doesn’t capture attention like the cute puppy tale. They think a choice was made early on to spotlight the dog as the main character in the sport’s history instead of an unfamiliar rowing term that wouldn’t resonate with many.
Even just as a means of exciting discussion about the sport’s early history, the conflicting stories are entertaining. Many individuals we speak with tell us that, in the end, they don’t care if it was the dog or the boat—they love the sport and accept the slightly funny name. When you announce you’re going to a pickleball competition, it’s sometimes difficult to be taken seriously.
Although pickleball has continued to grow quickly—by some reports, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.—some players have expressed to us their belief that the name itself acts as a barrier, keeping pickleball from being more widely accepted as a serious competitive sport requiring skill rather than a silly sounding game.
Even though pickleball is growing fast and loved by many, some folks think the name might need to be taken more seriously. Despite this, there’s a funny story that Joel Prichard, one of the game’s founders, once considered calling it “Tenny Pong.” Whether he was joking or not, it’s a cool name that connects to the sport’s roots. Either way, our name is likely to stay the same.
Whether you prefer the story of Pickles the Dog or like the idea of a mix of rowers in a boat, we owe the name to the Prichards and other creative families on Bainbridge Island who came up with this fun sport. People still love playing it after more than 50 years!