Where Did the Name Pickeball Come From?

Pickleball has been around since the summer of 1965, but where did the name pickeball come from? Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell created pickleball on an old badminton court with ping-pong paddles and a Wiffle ball, and they coined the name quickly after. 

Where exactly did the name “Pickleball” come from?

The name Pickleball came from Joel Pritchard’s wife because it reminded her of a pickleboat crew, a rowing crew that is thrown together and features leftover crew members from other boats. The name is fitting for a sport that throws together leftover aspects of tennis, ping pong, and badminton.

This naming choice is the most popular among historians, but it is not the only tale of the name’s origin. Read on to learn more about the name’s origins, the controversy surrounding it, and why the sport grew in popularity.

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02/21/2024 07:47 am GMT

Where Did the Name Pickleball Come From – Two Theories

If you’ve been around pickleball for a while or know the game’s history you may have heard two conflicting stories or theories around where the name pickleball came from.  This unique aspect of the game’s history has spurred considerable debate amongst avid players and enthusiasts and continues to pique curiosity across various sports circles.

The first theory revolves around Joan Pritchard, wife of one of the game’s co-founders, Joel Pritchard. It is said she coined the term ‘pickleball’ as the game reminded her of a ‘pickle boat’ crew, which in rowing lore represents a team cobbled together from leftover players, borrowing a parallel to the game that incorporated elements from multiple other sports.

The second theory holds much more charm and includes a lively canine character – making it the perfect PR story.  This hypothesis is based on the pervasive legend that the Pritchards had a dog named ‘Pickles’, who would enthusiastically chase after the balls when the Pritchards would play a game of pickleball on their old badminton court.

However, both the ‘pickle boat’ and ‘Pickles the dog’ theories hold their ground, making the name’s original inception an engaging enigma. In future sections, I will delve into these theories in turn, illuminating the dynamic narrative bedrock upon which this beloved sport rests.

The Pickle Boat Crew Origin Story

Before I go any further, it should be noted that most pickleball enthusiasts will tell you this story, the Pickle Boat story, is the true story behind how pickleball got its name.  And Joan Pritchard has said it best…

To put it in her own words, Joan Pritchard decided on the name pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” 

Pickleball is a sport that takes rules and inspiration from tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. When John Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were bored at Pritchard’s home after golf one day, they threw together a game that they could enjoy throughout the summer. 

Pritchard already had a badminton court set up on the property, but he apparently couldn’t find a shuttlecock that day. So, he decided they would create their own game. First, they replaced the shuttlecock with a Wiffle ball, but this wasn’t the only change they had to make. 

They also needed racquets to play. Some say that they did not have enough badminton racquets for everyone, while others suggest those racquets were not stable enough for a Wiffle ball. Whatever the reason, the group of friends decided to use ping-pong racquets instead. As a final change, they lowered the badminton net to the ground. 

With these drastic changes and the invention of an entirely different sport, they knew that it needed its own name. So, Joan decided on pickleball with the quote mentioned above. And it fits well given that there are equipment and rules pulled from other sports to play this unique game.

But the doubt of where the name originated has been a matter of debate for years. 

where did the name pickleball come from

The Pritchard’s Dog “Pickles” Theory

The other enduring theory behind the origin of pickleball’s name associates it with the Pritchard family’s dog, fondly named ‘Pickles.’ According to popular gossip, Pickles, a mischievous Cocker Spaniel, would enthusiastically join in the game and chase after the ball.

The comical image of a playful, energetic dog darting around the homemade courts, intent on capturing the ball, naturally lent itself to a delightful story accompanying the game’s name.

However, this charming narrative seems more suited for publicity and establishing an endearing origin story than presenting an authentic account. Some facts challenge the veracity of the ‘Pickles’ theory, creating speculation around its strategic construct for PR purposes. 

Narrative discrepancies and timeline inconsistencies cast a shadow of doubt over this tale. For instance, it was revealed that Pickles was adopted a couple of years after the game was invented, hence smashing the theory of the dog giving the game its name.

This points towards the idea that the ‘Pickles’ story may have been a later addition, woven into the narrative to give the game a more appealing and relatable identity.  In short, the ‘Pickles’ story makes for a great PR story for the game.

While the saga of Pickles the dog makes for a delightful anecdote, the details surrounding the truth are complex, presenting the tale of pickleball’s naming history as an intricate chronicle intertwined with both humor and intrigue.

Why is Pickleball’s Name Origin Controversial?

As I mentioned above, the naming of pickleball has an interesting history with not one, but two contradicting theories surrounding its origin.

One of the inventors of Pickleball, Barney McCallum, claims that they decided to actually name the game after John and Joan Pritchard’s cocker spaniel named Pickles. Barney said that Pickles would chase after the lost balls as they played Pickleball. 

Barney, one of the original inventors of Pickleball, seems like he would be a reliable source on the origin of the name, but no one seems to agree that Pritchard named the sport after the dog. It is also a common theory that Pickles joined the family after Joan had already chosen the name. So, the Pritchards could have named the beloved pet after the sport. 

It is important to note that the game was probably only seriously named after it grew in popularity. So, there isn’t much reason to doubt that both accounts of the name’s origin may be true.

It is also possible that they named the game, but they did not immediately share the name. This would be a valid reason for Barney to believe the name stemmed from a different source. Though the founders can’t seem to agree, it is clear that the name came from Joan herself in the form of a dog’s name or the boat. So, she seems like the more reliable witness. 

When Did Pickleball Begin To Grow in Popularity?

Pickleball grew from a small group of friends to other friends and neighbors. From there, news of pickleball and how fun and easy it is to play spread among more than just neighbors and friends through word-of-mouth. 

Because it started as a backyard pastime between a few friends, you may be wondering when or how it became popular from thereon. So, let’s break it down. 

First, it started with a small group of friends. From there, neighbors and friends caught on and heard about it. People nearby began setting up courts in their own homes, wanting to try it themselves. 

As news traveled about Pickleball through word-of-mouth, it picked up fairly quickly with other people. They had the perfect combination of a challenging sport without being too physically demanding. The first official Pickleball tournament on record was held in 1976, just 11 years after Pritchard and his friends came up with the idea. 

After the first official tournament, the USA Pickleball Association was formed just eight years later in 1984. With the formation of the USAPA came the first official rulebook later that year. Once the rulebook was published, the game really began to take off. 

In fact, just six years after creating the USAPA and publishing the rulebook, the game was being played in all 50 states. So, the game was only around for 25 years before people in every state played it. The rise in popularity came fast for a simple sport, but the simplicity seems to be what draws so many people to it in the first place. 

pickleball

Was Pickleball Ever Named Something Else?

No, pickleball is not called something else in other parts of the world.  Whether you play in Australia or in the United States, the game is always called pickleball.  

This is somewhat unique because some other paddle sports have or have had two names throughout their history.  The most recent “renaming” example is Platform Tennis.  Platform tennis is a unique outdoor tennis-like game played on the Eastern side of the United States, that is played on an elevated and heated court.  

Platform tennis used to be called “Paddle Tennis” for decades at Tennis clubs all across the country.  It wasn’t until recently that it was renamed or rebranded to differentiate it from the European paddle sport named “Padel Tennis”.  

Two different sports, with very similar names.  Luckily, pickleball has never had that issue and has a unique name known and loved globally. 

Who Came Up With the Rules of Pickleball?

The credit for devising the rules of pickleball is attributed to the game’s three visionary co-founders: Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell. In the summer of 1965, frustrated by the lack of equipment to play a family game, they ingeniously improvised with available resources and developed the preliminary rules to a game that would eventually be cherished as pickleball.

The core elements of these rules were designed to provide a level playing field for players of varying ages and abilities, ensuring a fun yet competitive sport that could be enjoyed by all. The trio was keen to produce a game for all ages, and one where the adults and kids could play together. 

Over the years, the rules saw various modifications as they fine-tuned the game. Two key innovations the trio introduced were the ‘two-bounce rule’ and the ‘no-volley zone.’ 

It was Barney McCallum who implemented the No-Volley Zone to keep tall players like Bill Bell from standing at the net and blasting shots at everyone.  

This evolution of the game, carefully calibrated by its founders, shaped pickleball into the dynamic, accessible sport we see today.

How Were the Rules of Pickleball Formed?

When Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell first told their respective kids to get outside and play, they probably didn’t realize they were setting the stage for a new sport.

The first hurdle was tailoring rules around an old badminton court, with nothing but ping-pong paddles and a whiffle ball. The game and its rules quickly started to evolve.

Observing how the serving team could serve deep and get to the net too quickly, they introduced the ‘two-bounce rule’. This rule required the serving to let the return of serve bounce.  This gave the advantage of getting to the net to the return team.  This also led to longer volleys and decreased the game’s pace, thereby allowing more strategizing amongst the players.

Next was the ‘no-volley zone’ or ‘kitchen,’ a seven-foot area on either side of the net. This rule was implemented to keep taller players like from towering over the net and putting every point away.  This clever rule helped level the playing field, bringing strategy and precision to the forefront of the sport.

Also, the net height was simply decided upon based on Bill Bell’s belt and waist height.  A 36-inch inseam meant the net should be 36 inches.  Simple. 

Over time, the trio constantly refined and tweaked the rules in response to players’ feedback. This made the game more balanced, intricate, and appealing. This sustained evolution underpins the formation of the game of pickleball as we know it today.

What Does the Word “Pickle” Mean in Pickleball?

In the world of pickleball, the term ‘pickle’ carries an interesting signification.

What does “pickle” mean in pickleball? If you’ve found yourself in a position where your team has been defeated 11 to 0, you’ve been ‘pickled’. The terminology adds an engaging spin to the game’s language. To be ‘pickled’, in this sense, means to finish a game without scoring a single point.

Though unofficial, the phrase ‘pickled’ is part of pickleball’s cultural lingo. It adds humor and emphasizes fun and camaraderie over pure winning.

This term puts a unique twist on the conventional measures of victory and defeat, reflecting pickleball’s casual, accessible charm.

pickleball

A Brief History of Pickleball and Who Invented It

 Let me dive into the brief history of pickleball and the illustrious trio who invented the game.

Pickleball was the brainchild of three creative minds: Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell. In the summer of 1965, they devised a game that was designed to get the kids out of the house. These three fed-up parents became paddle sport innovators by conceiving pickleball on an old badminton court in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Using what they had at their disposal they experimented with different game formats while still keeping it fun and engaging. The trio carefully calibrated and tweaked the rules of the game.

This gave birth to unique rules like the “two-bounce rule” and “no-volley zone.” The game soon picked up traction in the neighborhood where it was loved for its simplicity, and simple strategic depth.

Over the years, pickleball evolved significantly under the persistent vision of its founders, especially Congressman Joel Pritchard. Joel was known to set up a court at his political events. Numerous clubs sprang up, and the game gained visibility and popularity when the USAP was formed in 1984. 

Remarkably, pickleball is now often cited as “America’s fastest-growing sport,” having struck a chord with millions worldwide. The impressive surge in its popularity reflects the lasting legacy of its inventors have left behind. And it reinforces the wide appeal and vibrant allure that the sport of pickleball undeniably holds.

Where Did The Name Pickleball Come From – Final Thoughts

Most pickleball experts will tell you that the true pickleball name origin story is the Pickle Boat tale. Despite having two completely different origin stories, its rise in popularity proves that it is a perfect combination of different sports. 

Pickleball doesn’t require expensive gear or even a lot of room to play. Nor does it require great physical strength. So, it is no surprise that this sport has continued to grow in popularity since its inception.

Other FAQs

Below are some other popular questions around the topic of pickleball’s name and where it came from. 

Who are the three people who invented pickleball?

Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum are credited with inventing pickleball. The game was first created as a form of entertainment for their families on Bainbridge Island, Washington state.

Is pickleball the fastest-growing sport in the USA?

Yes!  Pickleball began its meteoric rise as America’s fastest-growing sport around the early 2010s.  For nearly a decade now, it has held this title. Its growth and popularity show no signs of slowing down, signifying the undeniable appeal of this inclusive yet challenging sport.

Where did pickleball originally come from?

Pickleball originated in Bainbridge Island, Washington in 1965. Born from a summer afternoon’s boredom, it’s now an all-age, nationwide sport.

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