How did pickleball get its name? There are two competing stories about how pickleball got its name. One story is that it was named after the family dog of the inventors of pickleball. The more likely story is that it was named after a pickle boat, a rowing term for the last boat to finish a race.
How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
Everyone wants to know how the fastest-growing sport in America got its name.
Any way you look at it, the pickleball origin story is a wholesome, all-American classic. Yet how it got its unusual name has left the world in a bit of a pickle. Just as there are two sides to a coin, there are also two competing stories over the game’s name.
Who Invented Pickleball?
The game was invented by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell in 1965 on Bainbridge Island.
Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell came home after work to find their families bored. They thought of playing badminton but couldn’t find the racquets, so they decided to play the game anyway with table tennis paddles and a hollow plastic ball.
The wood surface of the ping pong paddles worked well with the plastic ball, but the badminton net was too high. They lowered it to 36 inches and continued to play.
Creating the pickleball rulebook
The family was having so much fun they invited Barney McCallum, a neighbor, over to play. The three men sat down together a week or so later and came up with the rulebook for the game. Their intention was for families to be able to play the game of pickleball together and have friendly pickleball tournaments.
They borrowed rules from various racquet sports.
They invented a unique concept with the introduction of the non-volley zone, an important aspect of the game that separates it from other racket sports. They also chose to make the pickleball court smaller than a tennis court but the same size as a doubles Badminton court along with a shorter net.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Over the years, members of all the families involved have spoken out about the name of the game. Two different stories have been retold throughout the years:
- A story about a family dog named Pickles
- The story of the pickle boat
Pickles the Dog Story
Joel Pritchard got a cockapoo puppy for his daughter, and the family named the dog “Pickles.”
According to the official story at the time, Pickles the dog loved to steal the plastic ball that the family was playing with in his mouth and run away from the court. The McCallums and the Browns, who were both among the earliest pickleball players, stated that the game was definitely named after the Pritchard family dog, Pickles.
Barney McCullum and his son, as well as Dick Brown and his son, all claim that they remember the exact night the game got its name. They were all sitting in the Pritchard cabin, along with Pickles the dog, when they decided to name their new game “pickleball.”
The Pickle Boat Story
The competing story for how pickleball was named comes from Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan Pritchard.
Joan Pritchard was a competitive rower and claims an obscure rowing term inspired the name.
A “pickle boat” is a boat that finishes last in a race because the team is made up of a motley crew of discarded rowers who don’t quite fit together as a team.
It was similar to how they created a new sport using discarded bits and pieces of other sports.
Which Pickleball Naming Story is True?
While each story has its merits, some evidence in the history of pickleball is hard to overlook.
Both Joan Pritchard and her daughter Peggy have stated that the boat story is true, and the family dog Pickles wasn’t adopted for a few years after the game had been invented.
They say that the dog was named after the game, not the other way around.
As Joel Pritchard was both a Senator living in Seattle and Lieutenant Governor of Washington, an oral history of his life exists through the Washington State Secretary of State Oral History Project.
Joel Pritchard stated that Pickles the dog came later, but the dog story was one that the public liked, and media outlets have continued to circulate the dog story because it is more relatable and sells.
The whole family at this point corroborates the pickle boat story.
Who Came Up With The Name Pickleball?
In all likelihood, the Pritchard’s pickle boat story is the origin of the name.
Maybe it should be historically preserved, or maybe the ongoing debate is just part of the fun of the sport.
Either way, you now have an answer for all those pickleball-curious people wondering about the origin of the name.
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