How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?

Those who are seasoned veterans of the pickleball set are used to being asked how this paddle sport wound up with such a funny and interesting name. Regardless of how serious a player you are, there’s just no getting around the fact that “pickleball” just has a sort of awkward — and attention-getting ring to it. 

The truth of the matter is, there are two basic camps when it comes to the theories behind how pickleball got its name. These two stories are very different from one another, and deciding which one you believe is the most accurate way pickleball wound up being called pickleball will basically be an act of faith on your part. 

With that in mind, let’s get to the two most likely ways pickleball wound up with such a quirky and unforgettable name. 


An Obscure Name for a Weak Crew Boat Team May Be the Likeliest Answer 

According to the lore of the game, the wife of one of the dads who invented pickleball, Joan Prichard, had at one time in her college career been part of a competitive rowing crew. As the story goes, Joan suggested that the paddle game be called pickleball because apparently, the action of the game reminded her of what few people know to be affectionately referred to as a pickle boat. 

As a crew rower herself, Joan probably wasn’t much considering that most laypeople are not aware of what the phrase “pickle boat” refers to. But sure enough, if you’ll take the time to look it up yourself, you’ll find that a pickle boat, is in fact a slang term for a poor-performing crew of rowers, especially one that is not well-matched, or that is not doing the best job of staying in sync and working well together to make the best use of its overall strength.


A Dog Named Pickles Could Be at The Center of the Truth 

In the second story, we learn that instead of a group of wayward rowers in an ill-fated crew, pickleball instead actually got its name from the Prichard family dog. The adorable Cockapoo had been adopted by pickleball-inventing father and husband, Joel Prichard by a nearby neighbor and later named simply, “Pickles.” 

The way the story is often told, good old Pickles had a bad habit of getting right into the mix of the newly minted game, and would even pick up the ball right from the middle of the court, making it virtually impossible to get to the end of a match as long as Pickles was around.

Later, the Browns and McCallums — two of the initial players and inventors of pickleball — suggest the game was named after Pickles for this reason, and because it gave the sport a memorable, and of course, hilarious name that would be difficult for people to forget. 

While all of this is certainly interesting, only one story is vetted by a periodical. Joan Prichard, the crew rower from the first story, got to the papers with her version of events, giving it a slight advantage over the testimony regarding Pickles the dog. 

And, when you add to this that Joan goes out of her way to note in her telling of events that Pickles the dog didn’t even exist until a few years after the game came into existence, it is perhaps more believable that pickleball is, indeed, named after a group of not-that-great rowing buddies.

Regardless of which story is true, or which one you choose to believe, the bottom line for most pickleball enthusiasts is that the game is great exercise, gets you off the couch, and offers an entertaining way to involve friends and family in indoor or outdoor fun throughout the spring and summer months. 

Perhaps best of all, pickleball has held up well over the many years since it was first thought up in the mid-1960s and can be enjoyed by everyone from friends and neighbors to hardcore fanatics who take it all the way to the tournament level.


Dimensions of a Pickleball Court: What You Need to Know

The Most Popular Paddle-Type Sports: An Introduction to Pickleball