Serving Up the Story: How Pickleball Really Got Its Name


Nov. 29 2023, Published 2:48 p.m. ET

A man playing pickleball.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Pickleball is a popular sport in the U.S.
  • Pickleball was created in 1965 by a group of friends on Bainbridge Island, WA.
  • There are two conflicting stories as to how pickleball got its name.
Article continues below advertisement

It seems like everyone is playing pickleball these days. In fact, it's been named “America’s fastest-growing sport” by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). If you’ve never heard of pickleball, you should know the sport has nothing to do with the pickles you put on your hamburger.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that is a combination of tennis and ping pong. Players in a pickleball game use ping pong-like paddles to hit a wiffle ball over a net in a tennis-like court. So, how did the game come to be called pickleball? Let’s examine how pickleball got its name.

Article continues below advertisement
People playing in a pickleball tournament.
Source: Getty Images

How did pickleball get its name?

There are two differing stories of how the sport of pickleball got its name, although reportedly both have origins in truth. The most widespread story involves a dog named Pickles, owned by Joel and Joan Pritchard, two of the game's inventors, per Pickleball Portal.

Article continues below advertisement

The other, less exciting story behind the sport’s name was that it referenced “pickle boats” in rowing, per The Sporting News. In rowing, pickle boats are operated by random oarsmen, similar to how the first pickleball games used equipment left over from other sports. To understand the full story behind pickleball's name, you must look at how the game started.

When did pickleball start?

The game of pickleball was first started in 1965 by a group of friends who spent their summers on Bainbridge Island in the state of Washington, according to USA Pickleball.

Former congressman Joel Pritchard and local businessman Bill Bell got the idea to entertain their bored family members by improvising a game using the sports equipment they had on hand, ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball. They reportedly played the first games on a badminton court on Pritchard’s property.

Article continues below advertisement

After their families played the game for several days, Pritchard, Bell, and fellow neighbor and friend Barney McCallum set the rules of the game, including how high the net should be positioned, per Pickleball Portal.

Article continues below advertisement

People in the neighborhood continued to play the game, but they still didn’t have a name for the new sport. “This game was developing, and we were playing with new paddles and balls and were also trying to figure out what we were going to call it,” neighbor Jim Brown recalled in an interview with the Pickleball Channel.

Brown’s father, Dick Brown, also played a part in the origins of the game. As Jim and Dick Brown recall, the name pickleball came from the Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who used to grab the wiffle balls when people were playing.

Article continues below advertisement

“I remember one night being over at the Pritchards. It was the Brown family and the Pritchard family together, and we were trying to think up names of what we could call this paddle game,” Jim Brown told the Pickleball Channel.

“Joan Pritchard, at the end of a lengthy conversation, said, ‘Hey, why don’t you name it pickleball after Pickles?’ And for whatever reason, it caught. Everybody kind of went crazy and said, ‘That’s it. Pickleball. Let’s do it.’”

A cockapoo dog with a ball in its mouth.
Source: Getty Images
Article continues below advertisement

However, Joan Pritchard disputed this story in a 2008 column she wrote for the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Pickles wasn’t even around when the group chose a name for the game, she said.

“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,” she wrote in News and Sentinel.

More from Green Matters

Latest Community News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Green Matters. Green Matters is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.