Origin of the Name “hockey”

Ever wonder where the world’s greatest game got its name from? 

In one of our earliest posts, we discussed the origin of hockey.  As many suggest the name “hockey” apparently comes from the French word “hoquet” which when translated means “shepherd’s stick”.  A shepherd’s stick was a stick that often had a curved hook that shepherds would use to manage and direct sheep.  Also referred to as a “shepherd’s crook” a “shepherd’s stick” could also be used as a weapon to defend against predators (hmm not unlike a hockey stick).

In 1527, in a document of Irish decent there was reference to the term “hockie”.  (“The horlinge of the litill balle with hockie stickes or staves …”).  So even to this day the origin of the word “hockey” may still have unknown roots.  Was it as a result of “hoquet” in France (most likely) or a result of playing “hockie” in Ireland… or even further back was there an entirely different name used by the indigenous people of Eastern Canada, or going further back ancient Greece or Egypt?  One thing is for sure, there has always been lots of debate in term of who invented hockey.  Theories range from:

  • In ancient times in Greece and Egypt there is evidence of stick and ball games that were played by people living in those lands.  Technically this could be the first version of what is known as ball hockey.
  • Stick and ball hockey-like games were also played in Europe during medieval times.
  • Since the 14th century stick and ball games have been played in the British Isles with the games of Shinty (what we would call “shinny”) in Scotland, Bandy in England and Hurling in Ireland.
  • In the mid-18th century in England, in the stick and ball game that was played at the time, the balls were replaced with barrel plugs which were also known as (cork-bungs). These bungs lead to the suggestion that the modern-day term of “hockey” may have originated as a result of the term “hock-ale” which was a beer that was brewed for the Hocktide festivals that occurred in the spring.  As the story goes, the term “hocky” was used to reference the beer and was also a synonym for “drunk”.
  • There is also version of stick and ball games played in Scandinavia dating back to the 18th century.
  • The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has officially declared that the first game of organized hockey took place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in March of 1875.  Source: Canadian Encyclopedia.

There is a painting entitled “Hunters I the Snow from 1565 by artist Pieter Brugel the Elder which in the background there appears to be what looks like a pond hockey game going on.

Definitions of Hockey

The Hockey Fanatic defines hockey (specific to ice hockey) as “a game played on an ice rink by two opposing teams of 6 players, 5 skaters and 1 goaltender, where the objective is to drive a puck into the opponent’s goal with a hockey stick.  This is referred to as scoring a goal.  The team with the most goals after the duration of play is the winner of the game.”

However, a quick search on Google will provide some additional definition:

Hockey – a noun for “a fast contact sport played on an ice rink between two teams of six skaters, who attempt to drive a small rubber disk (the puck) into the opposing goal with hooked or angled sticks.”

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary describe hockey in the field hockey sense defining hockey as “a game played on a field by two teams of 11 players, with curved sticks and a small hard ball. Teams try to hit the ball into the other team’s goal.”

Vocabulary.com defines hockey as “a game played on an ice rink by two opposing teams of six skaters each who try to knock a flat round puck into the opponents’ goal with angled sticks. synonyms: hockey, ice hockey. type of: contact sport. a sport that necessarily involves body contact between opposing players.”  They also suggest that “Hockey is short for ice hockey or field hockey, but it usually refers to ice hockey, the sport where people skate on ice and use big hockey sticks to whack a puck into a goal.”

The Cambridge dictionary defines hockey as “a game played on a sports field between two teams of eleven players who each have a curved stick”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hockey as “a game played on an ice rink by two teams of six players on skates whose object is to drive a puck into the opponents’ goal with a hockey stick”.

Related Resources

Hockey – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hockey

To learn more about the history or hockey and related terms visit etymonline.com and enter “hockey” in the search field.