Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Uproar on the Lakeshore: What's in a name?

Jennifer Smith, Kelley Young and Rachel Bockheim are perfectly ordinary names in a sport where double-entendre nomenclatures and non-serious nicknames are the majority -- Flash Gloria, Missile Toes, Estro Jen, Queefer Sutherland, etc.

Smith and Young represent a small number of players who will skate under their real names during the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's annual championship tournament, which this year will be held Nov. 5-7 in Chicago at WFTDA's Uproar on the Lakeshore.

Bockheim, who plays for the tournament hostesses, Windy City Rollers, under the name Jackie Daniels, also skates for Team Legit, a team comprised of skaters using their real names.

"I think everyone comes up with their’s (derby name) in their own way," said Bockheim, who played for Grand Raggidy, the Grand Rapids, Mich., team for four seasons before transferring to Chicago. "Some do all kinds of research, some know it instantly before they show up. I started so early in terms of the derby movement, there were maybe 300 names. Now, there are thousands." 

Bockheim originally chose the name Jackie O'Nasty, but it had already been taken, and so she stumbled on Jackie Daniels.

"I hear some skaters say everything is taken, but I still hear new great names, and still have great ideas hit me once in a while. Call me. Once selected, your league rep submits them to small group of ridiculously amazing volunteers who run the list at I believe each league has their own policy of when they allow you to register your name." 

The International Rollergirls' Master Roster website catalogues and registers derby names from all over the world at The registration tries to ensure that no two roller girls share the same name or that their names aren't too similar.

The idea for derby names is largely borrowed from the theatrical performance art of burlesque and is a widely accepted practice to assume an alias for roller derby.

Skaters sometimes choose their new alias. Sometime their alias chooses them.

"I came up with the name Snot Rocket the first year I started skating, in 2005," said Young, who skates for the Kansas City Roller Warriors. "My team and I were skating in a St. Patrick's day parade, and March in Kansas City is chilly." 

"I kept blowing snot rockets since I didn't have a tissue, and we all thought at the time it would be funny if my name was "snot rocket" because I was kind of fast for the derby community at the time."

Smith, who is co-captain of Nashille's Music City Allstars, cautions new Nashville skaters to take some time when trying to determine their new name.

"They need to realize this is what your friends will call you, what will be on our website, what could be on DNN (Derby News Network), what will be the first thing to inform the impression of someone you are meeting for the first time, etc.," Smith said. "You just want to make sure you convey what you really want to convey."

To skate under your legal name is a dramatic departure from the sport that began its rebirth in 2001.

Enough kindred skaters got together to form their own team, Team Legit, which played one of its first games at Battle of the Bank II in Austin, Texas, in 2009. Bockheim was a last-minute add, and despite the team never playing or practicing together before, managed a third-place finish.

Team Legit currently plays two to three games together a year. But Bockheim doesn't mind people calling her Jackie, even when she plays for Legit.

"I just want to play roller derby really, I’ll skate under anything," Bockheim said. "But, I can say I had proud moments and texted my dad a picture of my BOCKHEIM jersey." 

"Everyone already knew me so well/long as Jackie Daniels, that no one was calling me by my real name anyway, even the announcers were calling me JD."

Smith's reason for skating under her name was more personal.

"I actually started bouting under my real name about a year and a half ago," Smith said. "I can't think of any circumstances that contributed to it. It was just something I gravitated toward as I got more and more serious about derby."

She wasn't always Jennifer Smith, though. When she first started skating, she took on the name Smith N. Wesson. She also took the number .357, a popular gun model for the company.

Switching to her real name, Smith changed her number, too.

"When I switched to my real name I used 11, which was the number I used in sports growing up," she said.

Young made the switch from derby alias to using her real name after returning from retirement.

"I decided to shed the name after I came back to skating following a year hiatus, which I thought at the time was a permanent retirement," Young said. "Snot Rocket as a derby personality had generated so much hype, and I didn't want to feel the pressure of coming back into that after a year off, having to live up to the same expectations that were hovering over me at the time that I retired."

"I wanted a clean slate. I just wanted to come back and skate with my girls, with my team, without all the hype and personal attention. I'm just me, Kelley, on and off the track. Snot Rocket was old news."

The name occassionally hangs in the air.

"As far as nicknames, people have called me 'snotty,' 'snot' and other shortened versions," Young said. "Some of my teammates still call me these nicknames, and I don't mind it as a friend thing. ... These girls have been close to me with that alias for a long time. I just want my jersey to say my real name."

During Amber Waves of Pain, WFTDA's South Central regional tournament, one fan wore a Kansas City Roller Warriors shirt with the name Snot Rocket and the number 4 screen printed on the back, cheering on Young as she blazed through the pack as one of KC's star jammers.

"My dad still wears a Snot Rocket jacket and shirt," Young said. "He's proud of my past accomplishments."

Young's father and mother were part of a larger contingent of Kansas City fans, including other skaters' parents.

"My folks are my biggest fans," Young said. "My siblings are more mildly interested and supportive, but my parents are derby fanatics. Honestly, I think my dad would prefer for me to skate under Snot Rocket. He's proud of my past and talks about it all the time. My mom, she's just happy with whatever. They're both really happy I'm skating again."

When Young retired, Princess Slay-ya took the number 4 for the year her teammate was on hiatus, returning it upon her return. Princess Slay-ya eventually retired, too.

"My number has always been 4."

Neither Young nor Smith place too much emphasis on playing under their real name.

"I don't consider skating under my real name as an honor per se," Young said. "It's just something I want to do."

Within their respective league, Young and Smith often find support from their teammates. The casual fans are usually the people with the biggest reaction.

"Outside of the league, when I meet people who are just learning of derby they of course ask what my name is and I explain that I use my real name," Smith said. "Probably 50% of the time people are kind of confused about it and 50% of the time they think it's cool."

As the sport continues to grow and roller derby gains more of an audience, Smith thinks more skaters will choose to use their real name, the "trade off between the quirkiness of derby and derby becoming more mainstream."

Young agrees.

"Every skater should do what she wants to do," Young said. "But I do think that perhaps at the national level, decreasing the antics increases the legitimacy of our sport."

TOP: Team Legit takes a moment to strategize.

BOTTOM: Team Legit's Karolina "Swede Hurt" Berglof (46), Laura “Amanda Jamitinya“ Mann (9) and Rachel "Jackie Daniels" Bockheim (7) corral Trish the Dish of the San Diego Derby Dolls.