Derby Names… Is There a Place For Them Anymore?

Road Rash Submitted by Doug “Road Rash” Peters to Derby Frontier

I’m going to preface this with a couple of statements. I understand that this is a very touchy topic in the derby world. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for some examination or discussion about it. This is MY OPINION only. I respect the fact that there is an enormous number of people who will have differing and conflicting opinions on this subject.

Roller Derby has primarily been a sport that has been associated with entertainment rather than professionalism and athleticism. When I was young, I saw Roller Derby on T.V. alongside Professional Wrestling on Saturday mornings after the cartoons were over. That was the derby of the 1970’s. The re-birth of the sport in the last ten years has been different.

The sport now has a set of rules. The bouts aren’t “fixed” as to who will win or lose. The “over the top” violence has been replaced by a focus on safety gear and hits that are restricted away from the head and back, knees and below. One of the components of Roller Derby that has stood the test of time ( so far ) are the Derby Names.    Similar to those of Professional Wrestlers, Roller Derby Skaters, Refs and Officials have been encouraged to create a “colorful” persona to go alongside this exciting sport.

Sakter names are often very personal to a derby athlete and many wear them with pride. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

Skater names are often very personal to a derby athlete and many wear them with pride. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

I can’t say exactly when the Derby names began. I did a quick YouTube search on Roller Derby and found a bout from 1967 that featured a skater named “Killer” Kasmersky. My point being that this has been going on in Roller Derby for a very long time.

Fast foward to the modern era of Flat Track Roller Derby and we still see Derby Names are still the norm. I love the skater names. They are often clever alterations of common words or phrases that frequently carry some level of humor (adult humor or otherwise ) to them. These names are often very personal to the skater and may indicate something about that skater, their personality, or something that they like or admire. The main reason I like them is because they’re FUN. It’s fun to know someone by a nickname.

The reason I’m writing this article is due to the success of modern Roller Derby. Roller Derby is no longer being promoted as the violent spectacle it used to be. It is now being viewed and promoted as a “Professional Sport”.

The word professional implies “no nonsense”. It’s true. Modern Roller Derby is athletic, strategic and hard-hitting (like football, not Pro Wrestling).

World wide competitions are springing up and these new rolling athletes are looking to be viewed as professionals.

The CRDA All-Stars donned numbers, with no names, at Redneck Rumble this past June. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

The CRDA All-Stars donned numbers, with no names, at Redneck Rumble this past June. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

How do you take a sport like Roller Derby and make it professional? Well, there are a number of aspects of Roller Derby that are unconventional, those characteristics are the first to be identified for correction. Specific to this article, Derby Names have been identified as one of the things that “has to go”. A good friend of mine said to me that they would not feel comfortable representing their country on a national team using their “Derby Name”. Across a number of leagues in North America ( and likely elsewhere )…  Derby Names are being replaced by the skaters actual legal name.

Proponents of this practice reflect on Professional Wrestling as a sport that uses “stage names” for its athletes. Professional Wrestling isn’t considered a legitimate sport…it’s just entertainment.

Prior to writing this article, I though about other sports that are professional in nature yet still feature athletes that have “nicknames”.

Let me name a few to set an example.

  • Boxing: “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler,
  • Basketball: “Magic” Johnson
  • Football:  “Mean” Joe Greene
  • Golf: Greg “The Great White Shark” Norman

I could go on. All of these athletes were professionals in their sport. All of these athletes were highly visible personalities and all of these athletes had a nickname that they were known by.

So, why does Derby have to lose the names to be considered “professional”?

Is it because Roller Derby is now in the beginning stages of applying to become an Olympic Sport? There’s no way that an athlete in the Olympics could possibly represent themselves, their country or their sport while using a nickname could they? Could they?

How about Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards… British Olympic Ski Jumper ?

Roller Derby skater names are FUN. They are also clever ways of adding some personality to the athlete. I don’t believe that Roller Derby has to eliminate Derby Names to be viewed as “professional”. I’ve demonstrated a small number of examples of the opposite. You CAN be professional and be known by a nickname at the same time.

I want to keep skating with “Ronnie B. Rotten” and reffing with “Kevlar”. I mean, I’m still skating with Ron Gall and reffing with Kevin Dennison… but the nicknames just seem like more fun to me.

Thanks for listening…

Doug “Road Rash” Peters.

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  1. Unfortunately this totally misses the point of the ‘Derby Name’ conversation.

    Derby names are *not* nicknames, they are personas. Wrestling aside, nicknames in sports are ‘earned’ over time, whereas in Derby they are adopted by the individual, usually before the skater/official has even benchmarked. They are built up and in many cases costumes (boutfits) are designed around them. In many cases they are registered so no one else can use them (even if the person stops skating).

    Sports nicknames aren’t replacements for someone’s legal name, they are a reflection of the person’s personality or behaviour over time and used *in addition* to the athlete’s name. In Derby they are (in many cases) intentionally an alter ego that is the *only* name they are known by. Sports nicknames are secondary to the athlete’s real name, which is at least as widely known. How many people who haven’t met them can list of the legal names of Suzy Hotrod, Bonnie Thunders, 8Mean Wheeler, or Georgia W Tush?

    As long as Derby remains insular and fringe, then Derby Names will likely suit the majority of people involved, being that they are generally Derby people themselves. However, if Derby wants to attract fans beyond immediate friends and family, then fans are going to want to know who they are rooting for. When the average fan hears a Derby Name without a real name, their first instinct is to associate Derby with Pro Wrestling, not Professional Sports.

    Personally I don’t care one way or the other, but Derby as a whole is coming to several crossroads, and the decisions people make now are going to affect growth, attendance, sponsorship, and more in the coming years.

    1. Soccer, a very serious sport as we know, has “nicknames” too, most of which are not necessarily earned, and they may not have anything to do with their real name. Brasil uses “nicknames” not only for their soccer players, but also their volleyball playersnd maybe others. “Pele” is nowhere near his real name of Edison Arantes do Nascimento.

      I agree it would be easier to sell derby as a serious sport without the derby names, but I must admit I like them. I would like to see them cleaned up, though, as we try to get space in the newspaper and on the air.

  2. Well said, DDP! It’s right up there with the argument that there shouldn’t be music during jams… NLL Lacrosse has music playing during the game, it doesn’t take away anything, but instead helps build the excitement during play-time.

    – Bruce Payne

  3. Personally, I love my derby name! I love this sport because it’s NOT basketball or football, it’s roller derby! For once in my life, I feel strong and athletic, and I feel like a badass! I am E.Z. Bruiser, and I can wreck a girl, help my players, hold a wall. I feel invincible! I would rather be involved in a sport I LOVE, at my own expense, than be involved in a professional sport that takes the joy, fun, community, and love out of what I’m doing!

    Also, as an NSO, I find music during a jam VERY distracting, as the noise makes scores, penalties, and announcing very difficult to hear. Just saying.

    E.Z. Bruiser

    1. That’s something you learn to shut out over time. I’ve reached a point where I can rock out to the music between jams; but as soon as I hear a whistle; it’s like white noise; where all I can hear are the skaters, refs, and announcers; and even then I only listened to the announcers because with the right ones I could signals stuff in to them as well for the crowd’s clarity.

      The key thing is, the music has to be done right… maybe I’ll actually submit an article to Kevlar on this topic, but let’s put it this way: think of your favourite scene in your favourite movie… chances are there was music in the background there too; but chances are (unless the music was intentionally there, like the “Take My Breath Away” scene in ‘Top Gun’, or the duelling scene in ‘The Princess Bride’) you didn’t even notice it.there. However, imagine the same scene again without the music, and it’ll be lacking some of the fundamental emotion of the scene. Granted, this music could have occurred in the setup instead of the part you’re thinking of; but I’ll almost guarantee that music played a part in getting the emotional response from you that it did. The same is true for derby, television, or other sport.

      Yeah… I think I’m going to have to write a piece on that…

  4. Derby name?! I feel like its so much more then that. That person you never thought you could be, that person hiding within you just waiting for the power of derby to bring it to life. I can assure you Dom and Darnelle may be similar people but they are not the same people. This may sound like I am a little crazy (and I assure you I am but that has nothing to do with this) Darnelle is a mom who works 5 days a week, spends time doing crafts and making lunches. Dom is unstoppable, she is going places Darnelle would never dare to go. She wears things Darnelle never would, and says anything that comes to her mind. Dom is my confident loud mouthed alter ego, Darnelle is who I always thought I should be. I like that they are seperate…its like I can have my cake and eat it to. And if I ever made it to the Olympics I would be damn proud to be Dom…simply because Dom is the one who made it there 🙂

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