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How did pickleball get its name? Depends on who you ask

There have been a couple of different stories told through the years about the origins of how pickleball got its name.

We know the game originated in the summer of 1965 in a beach town on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, where it was played by several families — including the McCallum, Pritchard and Brown families — on an improvised court.

old black and white photo of original pickleball players

Original Pickleball Court. Bainbridge Island. 1960’s. (Photo Credit: Pickleball Portal)

As one of the stories goes, two of the families had adopted twin puppies — cockapoos named Lulu and Pickles. Pickles liked to run around and grab the ball as it went off into the bushes.

One night in the Pritchard cabin, the families came up with a name for their new game.

“We were sitting in Joel (Pritchard’s) old cabin front room and we were throwing around trying to get a name for it,” recalls Dick Brown in a video segment of the PickleballChannel.com’s “Pickleball 411.” “The dog was always around grabbing the ball. Joan (Pritchard) said, ‘Why don’t you name the game pickleball, after Pickles?’ And it just hit us. We all thought it was a great name.”

“Everybody kind of went crazy,” said Dick Brown’s son, Jim. “They said, ‘That’s it. Let’s call it pickleball.’”

And the rest was pickleball history.

“From that point on, when the Browns and the Pritchards named the game, as you went down to the beach to play the game, you were now going down to play pickleball,” said David McCallum, son of one of the game’s founders, Barney McCallum.

Barney McCallum black and white photo swinging pickleball paddle

Barney McCallum (Photo Credit: Electrum Pickleball)

Except there’s also an entirely different side of the story, as well.

“OK, there’s the ‘official’ history and then there’s the real story,” said Pritchard’s daughter, Peggy Pritchard-Olson, in late 2005. “It was not named after the dog, because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started. The dog was named after the game. Not the other way around.”

Frank Pritchard, another of Joel and Joan Pritchard kids, agreed that the name came from his mother, who was a competitive rower on the island. He said that she sometimes referred to the ‘pickle boat,’ the slowest vessel in a race.

“Nobody remembers how it came to be called ‘pickleball,’ but I think somebody needed a reason why it had that name and the dog story sounded good and eventually stuck,” Frank Pritchard said in 2005.

Joan herself set the record straight in a newspaper column she penned for Parkersburg, West Virginia’s 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,” wrote Joan Pritchard. “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.”

Whichever story you believe, the families came up with a game that summer — eventually called pickleball — that would stand the test of time and be enjoyed by generations to come. Learn more about this fast growing and enjoyable sport at the Palmetto Dunes Tennis & Pickleball Center. Join one of the world‘s top ranked pickleball players, Sarah Ansboury, for a pickleball academy or clinic.

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