In Defense of Derby Names

There’s a little bit of a face-off going on in the derby-verse right now as more and more people start taking our sport seriously: Derby Names vs. Real Names. At the height of its popularity and before WFTDA, roller derby was very theatrical. There were lots of costumes and silly or provocative names, and those are some of the things that people remember most about the sport’s past. Nowadays, skaters are opting out of the outfits and names for more serious athletic clothing and real names on the backs of their jersey. These are very important changes for derby in the competitive sports world, but I think derby names still play a very important role today.

I’m Shelby Leksche, and I play roller derby. One of the first reactions I usually get from people is, “Roller derby? Aren’t you too nice for that?” And I thought they were right. Shelby is pretty quiet, respectful to her peers and bosses, and plays Harvest Moon in her free time. Derby is scary. It’s scary for the vets and especially scary for the newbies. You think, “There is no way I can do that.” But you come up with a name that means something to you, and you have a headspace to call on when you think YOU can’t do the thing. Cersei Slammister is the queen and she’s going to do whatever she wants. She is strong, graceful, disciplined, confident, and all the other adjectives that Shelby is not. Eventually it stops being “Cersei can totally do that when I can’t,” and becomes “I am Cersei, and I am doing that thing.”

The first moment I really felt that change in attitude wasn’t until my first RollerCon in 2015, a year after I put on skates. I was watching a bout on the banked track they had there and thinking, “That looks terrifying! There’s no way I could do that.” I had to laugh at myself right away because that was absurd! I already played roller derby! Nothing is out of the realm of possibility, and Cersei is really what made that possible. 

This confidence has bled into other aspects of my life. On pretty much any day of the week, Shelby would rather eat ice cream than go on a run. Cersei is going to run an extra mile AND eat that ice cream, because nobody is going to tell her what she can and cannot do. Shelby’s coworker is lazy and gets away with it, but Cersei is going to call them out. While Shelby would let backhanded comments float away, Cersei is going to speak up for those not able to. Eventually you become this person you had no idea you could be, and the people around you take notice. 

Roller derby has nothing to do with how nice you are. It has everything to do with how determined you are to kick ass and kick your own ass. It requires determination, strength, and courage. Even just the sound of most derby names seriously pack a punch just in the way they roll off your tongue. Alter egos can give you the strength, willpower, and courage to do terrifying, new, and difficult things, but it’s important to remember that the person facing all of these challenges is still you.

Cersei Slammister is a skater for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes.

Posted on June 8, 2016 .