Where is it called hockey? History behind the name

Every sport has a beginning. That is never the question. The hard thing to figure out is how it actually began. The development of any sport is not a straight line from A to B, but more like a bunch of little rivers that come together to finally form one large river.

So how did this ‘river’ of hockey start to come together?

Where did the name hockey come from? The name hockey likely comes from the French word hoquet, which is a curved shepherd’s hook. A french ball and stick field game called ‘hoque’ would be brought to England, where it would sometimes be played on ice.

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Where did the name hockey come from?

Coming up with the origin (etymology) of any word is a hard task. We need to take a closer look at the development of the sport and word.

The development of any type of sport, technology, culture or word is the influence of many different sources and comes over a great length of time.

Let’s take a closer look at all the sources that have fed into this river over time to get to what we call ‘hockey’.

Hockey came from outdoor stick-and-ball games

There are recorded events out of a number of different countries playing different types of stick-and-ball games with hooked sticks throughout history.

Egypt – There are pictures thousands of years old depicting the Egyptians playing a sport with a ball and a hooked stick

Ireland – Hurling is a game still played in Ireland and is said to be older than the recorded history of Ireland. The game is played on the field with a ball and a hooked stick. By the 1700s different types of leagues would develop that would involve challenges between locales. It is still played to this day.  Source 

Greece – Greece is not known for playing any type of hockey. However, there are engravings on tablets as far back as 510 b.c. on display at the archeological museum of Athens that depicts a hockey like game called Keretizein source 

Mongolia –  Beikou is a game that is similar to field hockey. For 1000 years this game has been played. Beikou literally means stick with a curved root.

Ball and stick games on ice before hockey

It must have been somewhat natural to play a game with a stick-and-ball. As we can see groups of diverse people in countries literally all over the world came up with an idea to hit a ball with a stick on a field.

But when did they take these stick and ball games from the field to the ice? 

Looking at this will help us see how the world hockey came about. 

In his book, Everything About Hockey, J. Alexander Poulton traces the origins of the work hockey to another ball and stick game played on the field, but this time from France.

1) France

Hoquet is a world that comes from France to describe a shepherd’s crook or bent stick. As well, there was also a field game in France called hoque. This game was probably never played on ice but hoque was brought to England in 1066. 

Eventually the word hoque would evolve to become the word that we know today – hockey!

2) England

The game from France would take some hold in England and as early as the 1400s you would see references made to the game. The references came under a number of different words called hawkey, hawkie, horkey, hooky, hoky, and hockey. 

Again the ice component was not there yet, but these games were often played during harvest festivals with curved sticks and a ball. 

3) Dutch

Hockey was first depicted being played on the ice by the Dutch. In the 16th century there are Dutch paintings showing people playing a hockey-like game on the ice. For the Dutch they would use the word hokkie

As you can see there were many variations of the word being used. However, by the mid-1800s the word ‘hockey’ became the standard of what was used to describe the curved stick and ball games. 

Hockey – ice or field? 

When you ask someone what comes to mind when they think of hockey a different picture will come to mind depending on where you are in the world.

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If you ask a Canadian kid they will think of ice hockey. If you ask a Dutch kid they will think of field hockey. 

The different branches of hockey (ice or field) started to take on their own flavours and rules in the 1800s. For instance, there are several reports of military men in the 1800s specifically playing the game of ice hockey.

There is even a quote from a British Military officer stationed in Kingston, Ontario in 1843 who wrote in his journal: “Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on ice.” 

When was the first hockey game?

The version of ice hockey we know was developed in Canada and comes out of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Hockey was developed out of the Halifax area in the late 1800s where it was established under the Halifax rules. However, the first organized games would take place in Montreal in 1875.

Montreal would be the epicenter of the expansion of hockey to the rest of the world as they would hold the first tournaments and be involved in all of the first leagues created. The NHL was established in a Montreal hotel in 1917. And, teams from Montreal have by far won the most Stanley Cups in the history of the game.


So the name of hockey was developed over the centuries and has come to mean different things to different people.

When I think of hockey I always imagine ‘ice hockey’.

However, what I have loved learning about this is the wide variations of the game of hockey there are. Whether you hit a ball or a puck with a curved stick into a goal – you know it is going to be fun no matter where you are in the world or what century you lived in!

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Welcome to Hockey Answered: a resource for anyone curious to learn & understand more about the great game of hockey.

I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

As my daughter began watching NHL games with me, I realized how many questions come up about the sport. Hockey Answered is full of, well, answers! If you are a new fan or lifelong enthusiast, I hope that you can enjoy hockey even more by learning something new around here.

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