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How Did Pickleball Get Its Name? – History of Pickleball


How did pickleball get its name? This is a pretty common question among players. After all, what can a pickle possibly have to do with the fastest-growing sport that is similar to ping pong or tennis? Where did this strange name come from? This article brings light to the origin story and gives you more information on the history of Pickleball. 

How Pickleball Got Its Name?

As stated by the USA Pickleball Association, several accounts of the name’s origination appear.

A game that developed in 1965, Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and a couple of other players invented Pickleball.

One of the biggest reasons so many struggle with the origin of the term pickleball lies with the fact that you will find two historic official stories associated with and the ones that the founders of pickleball told.

One story that Pritchard told surrounds a college crew pickle boat. The other story from the McCallum family includes a dog named Pickles. Here is a quick look at a summary of these two different family stories.

The Pickles the Dog Story

This is just a funny story that many prefer and choose to believe. In the summers of 1965, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum created pickleball on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Several days later, Pritchard came up with the moniker “pickle ball” as a reference to the discarded non-starters in crew race competitions “pickle boat.”

As the sport developed in popularity several years later, a conflict occurred when a few neighbors claimed they were present when Joan titled the game after the family dog, Pickles. Joan and her family have maintained for years that the dog received its name after the sport since it arrived a few years later.

In this story, the Pritchard’s had a family dog named Pickles. Joel Pritchard’s daughter obtained the dog along with one of his neighbors, Jim Brown.

The Pritchard, McCallums, and various other neighbors would play their version of a racquet game (people would later call this game pickleball) as often as they could. The Pritchard’s Cockapoo dog, Pickles, would often run onto the field and grab the plastic ball and run off with it. When this started occurring frequently, they called the game Pickleball after the dog Pickles.

Both the McCallum and Pritchard families agree that this popular game is named after Pickles the dog. They both also recall the nameday of the game. Apparently, both families were enjoying an evening in the Pritchard cabin when they thought of the name Pickleball. Everyone seemed happy with the concept of giving their favorite game such a funny and unique name.

The Pickle Boat Story

The pickleball boat story contradicts the Pickles story.

According to this story told by the Pritchard family, Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, first thought up the name. Joan was once a competitive rower in crew races and concluded the name pickleball because it reminded her of a pickle boat.

This was used to refer to a row boat team from a crew in college that consisted of mismatched crew members. The college crew “pickle boat” is considered the weaker boating team.

According to Joan, the game wasn’t named after the dog. Instead, the dog was named after the game. Many believe this theory since the Pritchard and neighbors had been playing pickleball for years before they got the dog Pickles.

Some also claim that the Joel Pritchard family story was instructed to stick with the dog’s story because it just works better. Joel Pritchard (a U.S. Representative from Seattle) and three different members of the Pritchard’s family rejected the dog story in interviews. Despite this, Joel’s cute dog story has persisted and was even featured in various newspapers.

It’s believed that many stick to the dog’s story because it simply sounds a lot more appealing than the pickle boat story and a lot more people can associate with it.

Now that you know all about why this game is called pickleball and a sneak peek into it’s origin history, it’s time to find out how this game developed over the years. So here is a quick look at the most significant historic facts about the game pickleball.

A Quick History of Pickleball

  • The fun sport pickleball was developed in 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washington.
  • Several families in a neighborhood came together to create a game or sport that everyone could enjoy. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, Sid Williams, and Barney McCallum were some of the masterminds behind the game.
  • Pickleball was created on an old badminton court on the Pritchard’s property.
  • Ping-pong paddles were introduced into the game because there weren’t enough tennis racquets for everyone to play with.
  • While developing the game, the net was lowered from the regular backyard badminton height of 60 inches to 36 inches.
  • Barney McCallum assisted in the development of more reliable and better-looking pickleball paddles. He also assisted with some of the rules and formation of the game.
  • Joan Pritchard thought of the name “pickleball” because it reminded her of the term pickle boat, a reference to certain rowing teams in rowing competitions.
  • In 1967, the first permanent pickleball court was established in the backyard of Joel Pritchard. Five years later, they established a company to preserve and govern the new sport. During 1975, the National Observer released an article on pickleball, and in 1976, the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington, hosted the inaugural pickleball tournament.
  • After gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest, the corporation Pickleball Inc. was founded in 1972. This corporation was created to help players find the needed equipment.
  • Pickleball became widely popular over the past 50 years and is currently enjoyed in 20 countries. 
  • Most people still believe pickleball is called after the cute dog story. This is because so many newspapers posted this popular story instead of the true story.
  • Pickleball Magazine was established in January 2016, and is the first magazine dedicated to this fun sport.

Final Thoughts

So this is about pickleball’s history and how the game started. It certainly is an exciting and fun story. The contradictions and mystery surrounding the name’s origin make this story a lot more appealing.

All in all, it seems the truth is that pickleball got its name from Joan Pritchard because their teams or game reminded her of a pickle boat. But, many simply prefer the dog’s origin story, especially since there was a dog named Pickles somewhere in the story.

No matter what story you believe, pickleball is one of the most fun games to enjoy. It is becoming a competitive sport and is sure to live on for many years to come.  We’re grateful to whoever had the innovative idea to create the sport we currently recognize as pickleball. We continue to enjoy playing it today more than ever.

If you want to learn other interesting things about this exciting game or know more about quality racket sports equipment for playing pickleball, look at some of the other guides we have on The Volley. With our guides, you can find all the latest equipment and learn all there is to know about this game and how to play pickleball.