Why is pickleball called pickleball? How did pickleball get its name?

The theories behind the name "pickleball."

Jaclyn Brandt

pickleball for beginners


February 14, 2024

Why is pickleball called pickleball? How did pickleball get its name?



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Most people would agree: pickleball is a weird name for a sport. But how did that name come to be, and why did it stick?

The history of pickleball

The sport of pickleball was invented one summer day in 1965, when two friends on Bainbridge Island, Washington were looking for something to do for their families. 

Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard were at Pritchard’s home, which had an old badminton court in the backyard.

“Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets,” according to USA Pickleball. “They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.”

The net was first placed at 60 inches but soon lowered to 36 inches. Their friend Barney McCallum soon joined and the three came up with the rules of pickleball, with a nod to badminton, as a sport that can be played with the entire family.

How did pickleball get its name?

There are a few different stories about how pickleball got its name: one is about “pickle boats” and one is about the Pritchard family dog.

Pickle boats

According to USA Pickleball, Joel Pritchard named pickleball after pickle boats: “a reference to the thrown-together leftover non-starters in the ‘pickle boat’ of crew races.” Pickle boats are generally the last boat to finish a race in the sailing world, or the crew of a boat that was put together randomly or haphazardly.

Pickles the dog

The second story regarded Joan Pritchard and the family dog, Pickles. Neighbors of the Pritchards remembered that Joan named the sport after their dog, Pickles.

Why is pickleball called pickleball? Which story is true?

USA Pickleball did an in-depth investigation into the controversy, and found records that Pickles the dog was born in 1968 — three years after the invention of pickleball.

“One day, during the summer of 1965, the Bells and Pritchards were sitting around and made the decision to come up with a name for the game,” explained Pickleball Magazine. “Joan stepped up and said, ‘Pickle Ball.’ She then explained the reference to leftover rowers who would race for fun in local ‘pickle boat’ crew race competitions.”

The rumor about pickleball being named after Pickles the dog came years later, when Joel Pritchard was doing an interview for a magazine and told the reporter the dog story was a better story.