You’ve probably experienced this sort of double take when you tell people you play pickleball. It is an odd name for a sport. Adding to the strangeness, the name’s origin is disputed by the sport’s founders, as evidenced by articles with titles like,”The Doggone Lies About Pickleball.”
Indeed, there are two “official” stories, repeated over the years, about how the sport of pickleball got its name. Both versions have been documented in interviews and written records by members of the two families who invented Pickleball on Bainbridge Island, WA in the summer of 1965. Each side claims their version is the accurate one.
The Dog Story
The family of co-founder Barney McCallum claims that the daughter of the other founder, Joel Prichard, adopted a free Cockapoo puppy from a box placed by a neighbor on the side of the road, naming the dog “Pickles”. Once the McCallums, Pritchards and their neighbors started playing their improvised racquet game, Pickles the dog got in the habit of picking up the plastic Wiffle ball and running off the court with it. The McCallums claim to remember the exact night they named the game after “Pickles” the dog, while sitting in the living room of the Prichard cabin. They recall cheering with excitement at the revelation of this funny name for their new game.
The Boat Story
In contrast, Joel Prichard’s family claims that Joel’s wife Joan, who in the past had been a competitive rower, came up with the name Pickleball because the assortment of characteristics from other sports reminded her of a pickle boat in rowing. Joan later wrote in the Parkersburg, West Virginia News and Sentinel, “The name of the game became Pickle Ball, after I said it reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. … 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.”
Because Joel Prichard was a well-known politician in Washington state, there is a recorded oral history of his life. He is quoted as saying the dog came later and was named after the game, although plenty of people advised him to stick to the other story because it worked better as an origin story.