Why is it called Pickleball?

2 Stories: Why Is It Called Pickleball?

Uncover the fascinating tales and conflicting narratives behind Why is it called Pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in America. Explore the histories, folklore, and mysteries surrounding this sport.

Many people, even if they haven’t tried it yet, know about this sport, and it’s gaining more respect. We often get asked about its name, so let’s clear that up.

The name’s origin is a bit confusing because there are two official stories – the dog story and the boat story. These stories come from the founders of pickleball, Joel Prichard, Barney McCallum, and others, who invented the game in 1965. The Prichard family supports the boat story, while the McCallums tell the dog story. Both sides claim their version is correct.

You can View: Who Invented Pickleball?

Pickleball Birth and Why Is It Called Pickleball

Pickleball originated as a family game in the Pritchard household when Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell, on one lazy afternoon. They introduced a hybrid game involving ping-pong paddles and a Wiffle ball on a badminton court. The game was an instant hit and eventually evolved, with formalized rules and dedicated courts coming into existence. 

View Here: When Did Pickleball Start?

Originating in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and his friends, the etymology of “pickleball” remains a hot debate topic among enthusiasts. It led to the establishment of the U.S.A. Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) in 1984.

Why do they call it Pickleball?

How did Pickleball Get its Name? However, the origin of the sport’s unique name, “Pickleball,” is covered in conflicting narratives and charming folklore. So, it primarily centered around two distinctive stories

  • One involves a dog named Pickles
  • Another rowing term is “pickle boat.”

The Pickles’ Tale

Ever wondered why it’s called ‘pickleball’? Joel Prichard’s daughter and neighbor Jim Brown adopted a puppy, a Cockapoo named “Pickles,” from a neighbor giving away free puppies. When they played the new racquet game, which later became pickleball, Pickles the dog would grab the plastic Wiffle ball in its mouth and run off the court.

The McCallum family and the Browns, who were among the first pickleball players, insist that the sport was named after the dog. They vividly recall the night in the Prichard cabin’s living room when they excitedly decided to name their new game after “Pickles” the dog. Interviews with early game players, including Barney McCullum, his son David, Dick Brown, and his son Jim Brown, all support this story.

Pickles the Dog

The Pickle Boat

The other version of how pickleball got its name is the “pickle boat” story. Joel Prichard’s wife, Joan, used to be a competitive rower. She thought of the name Pickleball because it reminded her of a “pickle boat.” Joan explained in a newspaper, the Parkersburg, West Virginia News and Sentinel, that a pickle boat refers to weaker, mismatched crew boat teams. It might sound a bit strange, but after doing some research, she found out that people do use the term “pickle boat” for such teams.

Was it diverging Beliefs on why is it called Pickleball?

The Pickle Boat

How Pickleball Got Its Name?

Pickleball’s Name Origin: A Dog or a Boat?

In 1965, Joan Pritchard coined the term “pickleball” during a casual game with Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell on Bainbridge Island. The name traces back to Joan’s inspiration from “pickle boats,” leftover rowers in crew races. Despite a later dog story, evidence shows Pickles, the dog, was born in 1968, three years after the game’s inception.

Summer of 1965: The Birth of Pickleball

Joel and Bill, inspired by Joel’s son’s boredom, created pickleball in their backyard using makeshift equipment. The game evolved with the help of neighbor Barney McCallum, and Joan suggested the name “pickleball,” referencing crew race traditions.

College Crew Inspiration: “Pickle Boats”

Joan’s childhood experiences with crew races influenced the name. The term “pickle boat” originated from post-regatta races involving non-starters, that’s similar to the mix of games in pickleball.

1968: Dogs Enter the Picture

In 1968, Pickles the dog joined the Pritchard family, a few years after pickleball’s inception. Despite a popular dog-story rumor, evidence supports the boat-inspired origin of the name.

For Details: History of Pickleball

The Dog Story’s Genesis

Joel’s interview in the early 1970s sparked the dog story, suggested for its charm. Despite protests from locals, including Barney McCallum, the dog narrative persisted, overshadowing Joan’s pivotal role in naming the game.

Pickleball’s Naming Legacy: A Quirky Twist

Conflicting stories persist about Pickles, with some favoring the dog tale over the boat’s origin. The quirky name adds charm, yet debates continue whether it hinders pickleball’s recognition as a serious sport.

Whether named after a dog or boat, pickleball’s legacy thrives over 50 years later. Despite the controversy, gratitude is owed to the Pritchard family and others for creating a sport that has endured and flourished.

The pickle boat story of Pickleball History

Impact on the Sport

According to a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the popularity of Pickleball in the United States has been boosted. It has reached 8.9 million players aged 6 and above, a substantial increase from 4.8 million in 2022.

The establishment of Major League Pickleball in 2021 underscores the remarkable growth of the sport, which has been evolving since its inception 58 years ago.

However, despite its amusing and peculiar name, Pickleball has become a significant sporting phenomenon in America, surpassing its origins as a casual gym class activity. Notably, there has been a staggering 21.3% increase in participation between 2019 and 2020, with 4.2 million Americans now playing Pickleball. While some argue that the name might impede the sport’s expansion. Meanwhile, the rising demand for courts and leagues across the U.S.A. tells a different story.

Enjoy More: What is Pickleball Sport?

Why is it called Pickleball? Unique Facts

  • Surprising Origin: Pickleball has a disputed origin story, revolving around a playful dog or a rowing term, adding a layer of enchantment to its history.
  • Family Creation: Pickleball wasn’t formulated by a sporting company but instead was created by a family, the Pritchards, aiming for inclusive family fun.
  • Innovative Combo: It’s not just a sport; it’s a revolutionary combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, offering unique gameplay dynamics.
  • Dog or Boat? The name “Pickleball” has dual possible origins: either from the Pritchard family’s dog, Pickles or from the term “pickle boat,” used in rowing.
  • Rapid Ascendancy: Despite its quirky name, pickleball has experienced a monumental rise, being deemed the fastest-growing sport in America.
  • Ubiquitous Appeal: From its birthplace in Bainbridge Island, Washington, it has expanded internationally, showcasing its universal allure.
  • Community Bonding: More than a sport, it acts as a social glue, fostering community spirit and camaraderie among players of all ages.
  • Inclusive Sport: With its easy-to-learn rules and adaptability, pickleball stands out as an inclusive sport, accessible to people of varying ages and physical abilities.
  • Economic Boom: Beyond its recreational value, pickleball has been economically impactful, with a surge in demand for pickleball-related products and infrastructure.
  • Enhanced Well-being: Pickleball isn’t merely entertaining; it’s a wholesome activity, that promotes physical fitness, mental well-being, and a sense of belonging among its players.

These dazzling facts portray pickleball as more than just a uniquely named sport; it’s a phenomenon enriching lives and communities across the globe.


One story attributes the name to the Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, while another links it to the term ‘pickle boat’ in rowing, symbolizing a mix of leftover elements.

It was invented by Joel Pritchard and friends in 1965 as a sport that the whole family could enjoy on Bainbridge Island, Washington (Source).

Although the name is unique, the remarkable growth in the sport’s popularity suggests it has not been a barrier.

It combines elements from badminton, table tennis, and tennis and is played with a paddle, a Wiffle ball, and a net.

Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, humorously named pickleball after the sport’s origin as a mix of leftover rowers, not their later family dog, Pickles.

Final Thoughts

Whether the name is a hindrance or a charming twist remains a matter of perspective as to why is it called Pickleball. The increasing popularity of this sport and the happiness it provides to millions demonstrate the enduring allure of this distinctively named game. In the grand scheme, whether Pickleball was named after a playful dog or a rowing term might just be part of the fun and mystery that keeps enthusiasts hooked and the sport’s community vibrant and engaging.

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