Pickleball is a stupid name and also why you should take the sport seriously

For every person who enjoys pickles there's another who can't stand the thought of this divisive food.  So, when seemingly out of nowhere, a pastime bearing the word "pickle" in its name appears and suddenly becomes the fastest growing sport, it's time to examine exactly why this phenomenon cannot be taken with a grain of salt.  

A black pickleball paddle and bright yellow ball resting on a dark blue court.

Pickles are delicious and yet, nearly impossible to be taken seriously because of how silly they look.  Chances are you're probably not the only person who feels borderline ridiculous uttering the name "Pickleball" and yet, we're at the cusp of a cultural revolution.   

Once you begin to examine the name origins of the world's most popular sports you start to notice a pattern of incongruity that leads to more questions than answers. 

What's in a name?

Football, also known as Soccer, is a popular sport played on an open grass field.  To fully appreciate the existence of the term football, you would have to believe that sports were once commonly played on horseback.  

Rugby, another form of football, was named after the town of Rugby, England, where the sport was apparently first played.    

Soccer isn't a name that Americans came up with but rather, that too, came from England.  Going back to the version of football it represents, another moniker was needed to distinguish it from rugby football. This is how association football was born.  Association football became known as "Assoccer" and eventually, it was shortened to "Soccer" likely by someone who was tired of all the running.  

Football (the American version) has an interesting origin when it comes to its name.  For starters, the ball doesn't look like a foot and the ball doesn't even look like a ball.  For the same reason the popular chocolatey beverage shouldn't be called Ovaltine, Football should've probably been called something different. The truth is, no one really knows for sure but given that it was derived from both rugby and soccer, and played on foot, it's not hard to believe that the name caught on considering it was competing against the name like Gridiron.  

Basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith as a less-violent alternative to football that athletes could play indoors.  Peach baskets originally served as the goals and have since evolved to the netted hoops used in the present-day sport.  Peach baskets plus a ball?  It all makes sense, even if the basket was eventually replaced by a net.    

All of this lends to the notion that any sport played on foot utilizing a ball could be considered as a version of football.  

The name Baseball is perhaps the most straightforward in terms of naming convention as it involves both bases and a ball.  Paintball may have been a more fitting name for the pastime that's steadily losing the attention of Americans who equate it to watching paint dry, although, the sport has made recent improvements toward enhancing its watchability.    

How Pickleball got its name

Pickleball is a stupid name but the sport is no joke though it probably started out as one.  Whether the pastime was named after Pickles, the inventor's family dog, or after a reference to a pickle boat crew because of the game's seemingly thrown-together nature, one thing remains true - it's a silly name for a sport.  It's also fitting for an activity played on a tennis court with paddles similar to those used in ping-pong.   

Pickleball's growing popularity

Some of the world's most successful athletes have taken stakes in their own professional pickleball franchises, and what was once a fragmented landscape of competing leagues appears to be one merger away from becoming a formal recognized brand, Major League Pickleball.  

Doctors are seeing a rise in pickleball-related injuries which means a sharp uptick in embarrassing conversations as people are forced to explain to friends and colleagues how they blew out a knee.  


Pickleball follows a long list of global pastimes each with labels that likely took some time in getting used to as they gained in popularity.  And though it might not yet be might not yet be a global sport of its own, one thing is for certain, it's more than a fad and definitely on its way to becoming a phenomenon.