Where Does Pickleball Get Its Name? Unraveling the Mystery


Pickleball, a popular paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, has been steadily growing in popularity across the United States and around the world.

However, have you ever wondered how this intriguing sport got its unusual name?

In this article, we will delve into the history and origins of pickleball’s name, exploring the fascinating stories behind it and shedding light on the various theories that have emerged over the years.

The History of Pickleball:

The history of pickleball begins on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the summer of 1965. Joel Pritchard, a congressman, and his friend Bill Bell, both fathers looking for a casual and engaging activity for their children, came up with the idea of creating a new game.

Along with the help of Barney McCallum, a successful businessman, they developed the foundations of what would later become known as pickleball.

Pritchard, Bell, and McCallum combined elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis to create a unique sport that would be enjoyable for all ages. They used a badminton court, lowered the net, and played with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.

The game quickly gained popularity within their families and the local community. As they refined the rules and equipment, the popularity of pickleball grew beyond the shores of Bainbridge Island.

Pickleball started spreading to neighboring communities in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States through friends, families, and local recreational clubs.

As more people experienced the fun and accessible nature of pickleball, it gained traction outside of Washington state.

It is important to note that while Pritchard, Bell, and McCallum are credited with inventing pickleball, their creation coincided with the development of similar paddleball games in other parts of the country.

However, it is their unique combination of sports and efforts to promote the game that led to its widespread popularity.

Where Does Pickleball Get Its Name? The Two Stories Explained!

Did you know that the name “pickleball” has not one but two fascinating origin stories behind it? Let’s explore these narratives and see which one resonates with the truth.

Story 1: Pickles, the Dog

One popular theory suggests that the game was named after Joel Pritchard’s dog, Pickles.

Legend has it that in the early days of pickleball, Pickles would often run off with the ball, providing endless entertainment and laughter for the players. As a result, they decided to pay homage to the mischievous dog by christening the game “pickleball.”

Story 2: The Pritchard Cabin

Another compelling conjecture revolves around a conversation that took place during a visit to the Pritchard Cabin.

It is believed that Joan Pritchard, wife of Joel Pritchard, commented on how the game reminded her of the “pickle boat” in crew, referencing the oarsmen who were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.

Taking inspiration from her remark, the group decided to name their new creation “pickleball,” reflecting the hodgepodge nature of the sport.


The Evolution of the Stories

It is worth noting that both stories have evolved and been further embellished over time. The specifics of Pickles, the dog, and the connection to the “pickle boat” have been subject to reinterpretation and variations.

However, what remains consistent is that these two stories provide general explanations for the origin of the name “pickleball.”

The Mystery Continues

Despite both stories, the true origin of the name remains somewhat elusive. In interviews, all three founders and their families have acknowledged both stories, leaving room for speculation and debate over which tale holds the most truth.

Nonetheless, the enduring charm of these stories has captured the imagination of pickleball enthusiasts and become part of the folklore surrounding the sport.

Anecdotes and Legends:

While the true origin of the name remains somewhat elusive, there are several fascinating anecdotes and legends associated with the early days of pickleball.

One story recounts how the first paddles used in the game were crafted from plywood scraps, with holes drilled into them to reduce wind resistance.

Another tale tells of the birth of the first pickleball court, which was painted on the driveway of the Pritchard family.

The Impact and Evolution of the Name:

Widespread Adoption

Over time, the name “pickleball” became widely adopted, and the sport gained recognition not only within the United States but also internationally.

The United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) was established in 1984, solidifying the sport’s legitimacy and popularity. Pickleball’s inclusive and accessible nature has attracted players of all ages and skill levels, contributing to its rapid growth.

Controversies and Debates

As pickleball’s popularity soared, controversies and debates emerged surrounding the name itself. Some argued that the name was not representative of the sport’s true nature or potential for competitiveness.

Suggestions for alternative names surfaced, such as “paddleball” or “pickle paddle.”

However, despite these discussions, the name “pickleball” has remained prevalent and firmly rooted in the sport’s culture and history.


International Recognition

Today, pickleball tournaments are held worldwide, with international governing bodies promoting the sport in various countries.

The spread of pickleball beyond the United States has brought new cultural influences and perspectives to the game, further enriching its global appeal. The name “pickleball” has become synonymous with the sport, recognized and understood by players and enthusiasts around the world.

Pickleball History Timeline

  • 1965: Pickleball was created on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum.
  • 1972: The first known pickleball tournament is held in Tukwila, Washington, attracting players from beyond the Pacific Northwest.
  • 1984:The United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) is established to promote and develop the sport, serving as a central organization for pickleball enthusiasts.
  • 2005: The first USAPA National Tournament is held in Arizona, marking a significant milestone in the sport’s growth as it gains recognition nationwide.
  • Present Day: Pickleball continues to experience exponential growth, with an increasing number of players, dedicated facilities, and international competitions. Its accessibility and ability to bring people together have contributed to its ongoing popularity and prominence in the world of sports.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How did pickleball get so popular?

Pickleball’s popularity can be attributed to its accessibility, as it is easy to learn and play across all age groups. Additionally, the sport’s social and inclusive nature has contributed to its growth, with communities and recreational centers embracing pickleball courts.

What is the pickle boat crew?

The “pickle boat” in crew terminology refers to a boat that combines oarsmen from the leftovers of other boats. In the context of pickleball’s name, it was a casual remark made by Joan Pritchard that drew a parallel between the sport and the “pickle boat” crew.

When did pickleball become popular?

Pickleball gained traction in the 1970s and experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, particularly among seniors and recreational players seeking a low-impact and engaging activity.


Unveiling the mystery behind the name “pickleball” has shed light on the intriguing origins of this beloved paddle sport.

Whether it was named after a playful dog or a casual remark at the Pritchard Cabin, the name has stuck and become an integral part of the sport’s identity.

As pickleball continues to grow in popularity, it’s important to remember the humble beginnings and the rich history that has brought us to where we are today.

So the next time you step onto the court, take a moment to appreciate the story behind the name and let it inspire you to enjoy the game even more.