Why Is it Called Pickleball and Other Fun Facts

Why is it called pickleball is a question that has sparked much debate, particularly over the past few years as the sport has grown. Today, pickleball is played by over 37 million people in the U.S. and more around the world, all of who enjoy its fast-paced and competitive nature. So where did the awesome game get its salty name?


The most widely accepted origin story of pickleball is that the name was derived from the inventor’s family dog. The story goes that in 1965, Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell were looking for an activity to entertain their families during summer vacations. So they decided to create a game using paddles and a perforated plastic ball similar to those used for wiffleball. As they were discussing what to call this new game, Pritchard’s wife suggested naming it after their family’s cocker spaniel – Pickles! That story appears to be backed up by Barney McCallum, the third original founder of the sport and partner in Pickleball Inc.

However, there is an alternate answer to why it is called pickleball. Version two of the story states that Joel Pritchard’s wife Joan thoughtfully christened their game “pickleball” in reference to the “pickle boat”–a crew vessel made up of leftover rowers from other boats, since pickleball is made up from the spare parts of other games. A “pickle boat” can also be the last boat to finish a sailing race.


Pickleball has been around since 1965, when the aforementioned family cocker spaniel, Pickles, would chase after stray pickleballs during family-friendly matches.


A quick look at the etymology of the word “pickle” and we learn that it comes from the Dutch pekel or northern German pókel, meaning “salt” or “brine.” Pickling has been a critical practice throughout history due to its efficacy in preserving food and extending the shelf life of various products. I see a parallel here, as the sport of pickleball is optimized to stand the test of time. 


Whenever I show up to play pickleball, particularly with beginners, the pickle puns can be jarring. Examples include:

  • I’m not dill-usional, pickleball is the greatest sport!
  • If you play pickleball in the Caribbean, you’re now trop-pickle.
  • My local club offered $5-an-hour open court play; it was the dill of the day.
  • Always relish hitting an around-the-post shot.
  • Does the sport pickle your fancy?

Now that you have learned where pickleball got its name, we leave you with this totally unnecessary rhyme:

Put on your winter shawl and grab your paddle made of nickel ore because there’s a thicker wall at the ticket hall to go practice pickleball.

Now you know the pickleball name origin story, but nothing is more fun than getting out there and playing. Happy dinking!

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