Why Is It Called Pickleball? The Truth Exposed!
Who knew there could be such conflict regarding the origin of a sport’s name? We sure didn’t! But that’s the reality of the increasingly popular sport of pickleball. Two distinct theories have emerged, and accounts from the creators of the game dispute one another, making things tricky to unravel. But unravel we did
So why is it called pickleball? The pickleball name came from pickle boats. Joan Pritchard gave the sport this name after seeing similarities between the leftover equipment they used and the leftover oarsmen from pickle boat races.
As a result, the more enticing story of the game being named after the Pritchard’s family dog, “Pickle” is false. But don’t you worry. We’ll get into all the details, explaining each theory in depth, and why the dog theory stood strong for such a long time.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a racket sport that is played both indoors and outdoors. Using a court with the same dimensions as badminton, players use rigid paddles to hit a perforated ball until one team wins.
The ball is only allowed to bounce once. Like most other racket sports, there are no overhand serves and no second serves. One key difference between pickleball and other sports is a section of the court known as the “Kitchen.”
The kitchen is a marked area of the court that sits on either side of the net. Here players cannot volley the ball. Instead, they must let it bounce. The result is that rallies close to the net are much slower.
Read More: Paddle Tennis vs Pickleball
Why Is It Called Pickleball?
There’s no denying that “pickleball” is a strange name. It conveys a comical tone rather than that of a serious professional sport. This begs the question: where did pickleball get its name?
Well, there are, in fact, two widely believed theories as to where pickleball began. The first relates to pickle boats and the second, the Pritchard’s family dog. It’s the pickle boats theory that is correct. We’ll explain why below.
Pickleball Name Origin Theory 1: Named After Pickle Boats
Pickleball may have been founded by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, but none of the creators came up with the name.
It was Pritchard’s wife Joan who had the honor. In 1965, both her family and the Bells, who they had invited around, were playing what would become to be known as the sport of pickleball. She suggested the name “Pickle ball” to the group.
The sport reminded her of the pickle boats from her time at Mariette College in Ohio. The college had a skilled boating crew and would participate in annual competitions. However, not everyone made the cut for the main team, so instead, the sidelined oarsmen competed in a separate race in pickle boats.
The Real Reason Why Pickleball Is Called Pickleball
Why Joan connected pickle boats and pickleball is not immediately obvious, given they look so different. But the reason doesn’t stem from appearances, but rather in selection.
The oarsmen used for pickle races were leftovers from the main race, as they didn’t make the first team. Similarly, Joan saw pickleball as making use of the leftovers from other racket sports. The game began by taking a wiffle ball from a plastic bat and ball set, ping pong paddles, and a badminton net and court.
How Was Pickleball Named Theory 2: Homage to Pickles the Dog
(Cockapoo like Pickle)
The second theory of how pickleball got its name states that the sport was named after the Pritchard’s family dog. Back in the summer of 1968, Paul Brown and the Pritchard’s daughter Jeanie walked to Lynwood and discovered a litter of puppies. They decided to each take one home.
The Brown’s puppy was promptly named “Lulu,” and the Pritchard’s puppy was given the name “Pickle.” While it is impossible for the sport to be named after the dog, given that he was born in 1968 and the sport came about in 1965, this hasn’t stopped people from believing the contrary.
“Somehow, the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, 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.” — Joan Pritchard
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Why Do So Many People Believe the Dog Rumor?
When the game began to receive a lot of popularity, Joel Pritchard was approached by a reporter to help raise awareness. Naturally, the conversation steered to how the sport came to be and how they decided on a name.
Joel told the true story detailing how his wife named the sport after pickle boats. However, he would go on to propose a funnier beginning, in which the sport was named after their dog Pickle, who was a few years old by this time.
The reporter knew this story would be far more compelling, so recommended they proceed with that. After all, who doesn’t love a cute story about a dog naming a sport? Quite a few of the neighbors were in attendance for the interview, and word soon got out about the dog story, and Bainbridge residents weren’t pleased. Joel tried to put their mind at ease, stressing that the story was a bit of fun and wouldn’t last.
But it did. And this was mostly due to Joel’s follow-up actions. He and Barney McCallum agreed they would stick to the dog story. Joel eventually relented in his latest interviews, but Barney died, never admitting the truth.
“It was not named after the dog because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started. The dog was named after the game. Not the other way around” — Peggy Pritchard-Olson
The Browns Back the Dog Story
The dog story was strong because several individuals backed it aside from Joel and Barney. These included their neighbors, the Browns. They were likely in attendance during Joel’s interview, so perhaps this is why they are so adamant that the sport was named after the Pickle the dog.
Both Dick Brown and his son Jim detail how they were all gathered one night at the Pritchard’s and were struggling to come up with a name. They even recount laughing with joy when Joan proposed the name “Pickleball” because of how great the name was.
It seemed perfect as Pickle always interrupted the game when he grabbed the whiffle ball and ran off with it.
But why do people say this is how pickleball got its name despite all of the new evidence that has come to light? It’s likely because they just prefer the original story they heard. People have a habit of being stubborn, especially about things they love.
Should We Care?
While it’s neat to know what pickleball was named after, the fact is that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Let us just be thankful that it was made in the first place!
If anything, the name itself rather than how it came to be could hinder pickleball. Most of us agree that pickleball is not an ideal name for a sport as it sounds childish. But then again, the sports’ creators never knew that the game would become so big.
They were simply naming a fun little game that they came up with. And the title is far more fitting in this context. Nevertheless, pickleball is going strong despite the arguably silly name. The latest figures from USA Pickleball show a 21.3% growth from 2019 to 2020 and a further 14.8% growth from 2020 to 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do They Call It Pickleball?
Pickleball got its name from pickle boats. The wife of Joel Pritchard, Joan, thought that the sport they created reminded her of pickle boats. Like the leftover oarsmen were selected for those pickle boat races, they collected leftover equipment from other racket sports to make the pickleball game.
What Breed of Dog Was Pickleball Named After?
The Pritchard’s dog Pickle is said to be responsible for where the term pickleball came from. Pickle is a cockapoo, not a cocker spaniel as he was sometimes misidentified. The sport is also not named after the family dog, but rather pickle boats.
What Is Pickleball Also Called?
Pickleball does not have any alternative names. It is sometimes closely compared to paddle tennis and padel, but these are different sports.
Where Did Pickleball Come From?
Pickleball came from a mix between badminton, ping pong, and wiffle ball. The game’s creators, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, took elements of each of these three sports to make pickleball. Joel and Bill began initially but enlisted the help of a handyman, Barney, after their paddles kept breaking.
So now you know how the sport’s name came to be. Why is it called pickleball? It’s because of pickle boats, not the loveable family dog Pickle. Sure, we would have preferred the latter to be true, but the reality is that it isn’t. And the truth matters.
It’s easy to see why the dog theory held for a long time. It’s clearly the more interesting of the two, so people naturally want to believe it. Moreover, we were never given a strong enough reason to believe the contrary.
Two of the three original creators, Joel Pritchard and Barney McCallum both testified that the sport was named after the family dog Pickle. Even first-person accounts from neighbors backed this up. Only when Joel changed his tune and Pickle’s date of birth was revealed were we certain that the pickle boat theory had been right all along.
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Freelance writer. Table tennis enthusiast. Lover of all things online. When I’m not working on my loop game I’m probably binge-watching some fantasy show.