The Derby Name Debate
By Bill Mayeroff
Craig Bailey had a goal in mind when he helped found the Charlotte Speed Demons.
He and the other founders of the Charlotte, N.C.-based roller derby team wanted fans to concentrate on the athletics and competitiveness of the sport, rather than many of the more theatrical aspects of derby.
There was one aspect in particular that the group felt was keeping people from focusing on the sport – derby names.
“It’s always about the name,” Bailey said. “What people are focusing on is not the competitiveness. What they’re focusing on is the theatrics.”
The Charlotte Speed Demons are somewhat of an anomaly in the derby world because every skater on the team has competed under their real name since the team’s founding in 2010. When the team was founded, Bailey said, he had learned from his wife, who has played derby since 2008, that roller derby is often not perceived as a sport by the world at large, but rather as entertainment.
“Roller derby struggles to be accepted as a sport,” Bailey said. “We feel the game is exciting enough without all the other stuff.”
Beyond changing the perception of the sport, Bailey said, not using derby names had other advantages. One major one, he said, was that using legal names assured that every bout was family-friendly, since none of the skaters use derby monikers that parents might not want their younger kids to hear.
“We want to be positive role models,” he said.
Bailey is not the only one who believes derby monikers affect the way the world perceives roller derby. Julia Rosenwinkel skates under her legal name as a member of the Windy City Rollers’ b-team, the Second Wind. When she joined the league in 2004, Rosenwinkel skated under the moniker “Lucy Furr,” though she had always been reluctant to use a pseudonym.
“I actually never wanted a derby name,” Rosenwinkel said. “At the time, I thought choosing a moniker was very near required.”
Rosenwinkel’s teammate, Val Capone, actually came up Rosenwinkel’s original derby moniker.
“I had just finished my undergraduate work in religious studies, so I wanted something to connect with that part of my life, in a cheeky way,” Rosenwinkel said.
In 2004, Rosenwinkel said, it was much more difficult to get people to enjoy roller derby purely for the competitiveness and athleticism on display.
“In 2004, roller derby was entertainment sport,” she said. “We sold our game with fishnets and fake fights thinking that was the hook to grow our fan base.”
Like Bailey, Rosenwinkel believes derby monikers affect how roller derby is seen by the world.
“There is no semi-pro sport I know of where the athletes play under fake names,” she said. “Nicknames are earned or given in the game, but that is entirely different.”
It was after a few seasons skating with Windy City that Rosenwinkel decided to give up Lucy Furr and skate under her legal name. Using a pseudonym, she said, never felt quite right.
“All the while I was Lucy Furr, I felt awkward representing my sport with a fake name, so I avoided it,” she said.
Though she always knew the decision was the right one, Rosenwinkel said it was still a bit difficult to make.
“I truly loved being called Lucy and had deep fondness for my name,” Rosenwinkel said. “It was hard to let go of my derby name, but the decision felt so true and I never doubted the importance.”
Not all feel as strongly.
Amanda Sharpless skates for the Mile High Club – the travel team of the Denver Roller Dolls – under her legal name, as do all but a small handful of skaters on the team. But during home bouts, she said, all of DRD’s skaters use derby monikers.
Sharpless, who skates in home bouts under the name The Swiss Missile, believes derby names are part of the appeal of the sport and using them is a nice nod to the sport’s past.
“It’s kind of an homage,” she said.
Caitlin “Muffin” Krause, a teammate of Sharpless’, agrees.
“I think it’s actually part of the charm of our sport,” she said.
Krause said some new skaters are drawn to the sport because they can have an alter ego. She believes that it’s important to keep new skaters coming in and if that means they skate under a pseudonym, so be it.
“What I care about is that the community remains inclusive and diverse,” Krause said.
Bailey believes the use of legal names by the Charlotte Speed Demons seems to have paid off. The sports section of the Charlotte Observer, a daily newspaper in Charlotte, has pre- and post-bout coverage of Speed Demons bouts, though they do not cover another derby team in the area, he said.
Bailey said that drastic changes, such as the general use of legal names instead of derby monikers, must be chosen by the people playing the sport and cannot be forced via rule changes.
“I think the players themselves have to look at where they want the sport to go,” he said.
In order for roller derby to be taken more seriously as a semi-pro sport, players must use their legal names, she said. But, she was quick to add, that change has to be made by the players themselves.
“I think it’s necessary we skate under our real names,” she said, adding that she has encouraged new skaters to use their legal names. “But I do feel very strongly that the sport has to choose it.”