Mar 302011
 

Slimenem, Schexorcist, Madie Sans Merci, and Villainelle - different names for very different ladies

What’s your name?

That’s a complicated question for a derby girl.  Every time I meet someone new, hold out my hand for them to shake, I pause and wonder What name am I supposed to give?

My boyfriend calls me by my derby name when he’s around my derby friends.  But I doubt he’d ever use it in private.  I’ve never talked to my parents about my derby name specifically, but in the video my father took of my first public scrimmage, it’s clear that he starts calling me “Vill” halfway through, without any prompting.  When I introduce myself to fresh meat, I give them both my names; after all, they don’t have a derby name to give me yet, so I feel like I’m only greeting them on an equal playing field if I hand them my parental-given moniker.  In my home, where I live with another derby, and where other derbies can always be found hanging out, we use a hodgepodge of different epithets – I’m Vill and Villainelle and my other name too.

But I don’t have to tell you any of this.  Because you know.  It happens to you too.

Unless you’re one of the number of girls beginning to form teams that play with their legal names blazoned across their jerseys.  I didn’t know about these teams until our discussion, a few weeks ago, about derby fashion and choosing an appropriate team image.  When Moxie introduced the topic of derby dress, several commenters participated in the discussion, letting us know that their teams have eschewed all the traditional trappings of derby – including the nicknames.

In the ensuing weeks, I’ve thought about this every time I’ve had occasion to use my derby name.  But the issue finally came to a head for me when, after a bout last weekend, my boyfriend pointed out that he’d spent a good deal of time during the first half explaining my name and number to his friends.

I have one of those names that most people don’t get right away.  It’s not that it’s inherently complicated; it’s just that the things it references are highly personal and relatively obscure.  And I did begin to wonder, at first, whether it’s really worth the trouble.  After all, it could be argued that skating under an assumed name – a false identity – distances the players from the fans, and from each other.  It could be argued that as long as derby girls insist on playing under wild names, their sport will never be taken seriously in a world of sports players known by their familial nomers.

But this week, I started reading something that solidified my dedication to derby names:  9lb Hammer’s new novel.

9′s book, Pivot (go buy it here!  I’m reviewing it next week!), is the story of a girl finding freedom through her derby identity.  In the narrative, the dichotomy between the narrator’s “real name” (Clementine Byers) and her derby name (Xana Doom) is crucial to understanding her transformation.  Clementine’s journey to becoming Xana raises the question of how “true,” really, our given names are.  As Clem begins to distance herself from her mother, she finds new family with her derby team; in that sense, the name she takes on when she joins the team IS a family name – a name that signifies the creation of a new identity.  When Clementine introduces herself as “Xana,” she’s making a choice about the girl she wants to be and the life she wants to lead.  She is taking control of something that seems largely uncontrollable.

I can identify with Clementine’s transformation, and I recognized myself immediately in her.  My “real name” is suited to me in a number of ways.  It has an old-fashioned feel; it’s longish and formal-sounding.  It sounds stoic and responsible, like it might smell of roses and dish soap.  And in many ways, that’s appropriate for me – or at least for a version of me.

My derby name is different, though.  My derby name represents the things I am and the things I want to become.  It’s about identity, but it’s also about aspiration.

I was a bit uncertain when I first chose it.  I knew I loved the name, knew that it represented an appropriate sentiment.  But I wasn’t sure it would make sense to anyone.  So the first time I uttered it at practice, I mumbled it quietly.  People aren’t going to get it, I thought.  It’s not tough enough.  It doesn’t sound DERBY.

What I failed to realize at the time, though, is that there are different kinds of toughness in roller derby.

Some  of the girls in my league have names that immediately suggest their strengths as players.  Unholy Horror is, literally, a horror if you step up to jam and realize she’s sharking in the back.  Turbo Tyke is fast as fuck, and Tank Goodness plows through the pack like a (super limber) tank.

Other girls’ names suggest as much about their off-the-track personalities as their game-day personas.  TrAC/DC is always rad and ready;  Bout Love is bountifully good-natured.  Little Miss Maggot and Ocean’s Motion both adopted names that speak to their careers off-track, and Zoom Tang… well, Zoom Tang likes pussy.

But Villainelle?  Nobody even knows what the fuck it means.

The answer is that it’s a kind of poem.  Specifically, it’s a brainy, complicated form that appeared a lot in the 19th century.  You probably read villanelles in high school, although you likely don’t remember them as such.  Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one.  And for the Plath fans out there, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” is another.  I love both of those poems.  But neither of them has anything to do with the reasons I chose my name.

When I joined derby, I knew I wasn’t obviously tough.  I’m not a commanding physical presence.  But I AM a commanding vocal presence.  And an even more commanding written one.  I can navigate words with grace and precision.  When I stare at a blank page, I’m filled with fire and intensity – and with the settled confidence of a woman who knows exactly what she’s doing.  Even if I doubt myself momentarily, if the words don’t spill forth right away, I can rest in the knowledge that if I concentrate and focus, if I place myself in the proper mindset, I’ll eventually conquer the doubts and discover the path to the ideas inside my head.

I’m nothing like my poetic self on the track.  I get jittery and anxious; I get angry when I can’t see a path through the pack.  I lose my voice, and sometimes I lose my mind.  But when I look at the back of my jersey, when I see my name and my number (19LN, for 19 lines), I remember who I really am.  And my confidence returns.  I remind myself that even at my most frustrated, I’m in control.  All I have to do is concentrate and navigate – put my body in the places the words should go.  Manipulate my limbs the way I would a set of lines in a poem.

Derby names are important – whether we skate under our family names, sporting pride in our inherited identities, or under a name chosen to reflect our place on the track – the monikers we choose remind us who we are and what we can do.  They remind us where we belong.

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Apr 232010
 

As I restlessly roamed the Internet last week after my post on leg warmers, I had that naughty urge to shop for derby flair. I say naughty only because I have more clothes then fit into my dresser and I’m also supposed to be saving money because I am going to RollerCon this year as well as getting married in September. That sh@$ aint cheap and frivolously shopping is just not in cards for me right now.

So being that I was trying to shop with limited funds I gave myself a budget of $25 and started my search with what I needed: Laces. I always like to have a back up of at least two laces in my skate bag incase I snap or rip them at practice. I remembered that Dressderby.com carries some of my favorite laces so I let the intranets gust me away to derby accessory paradise.

Skate Laces – $4.99

I was stoked to see that Dress Derby still carried these little gems – Sour Puss brand pink leopard print skate laces, made with some sort of polyester that makes them very durable. For around five bucks you can’t go wrong with these.

Socks – $6.99

Next I headed over to the main page and noticed some cute Cat Noir socks. Being that I am newly placed on a team called the Hellcats I thought these were a necessary addition. Plus you can never have too many socks – right?

Leg Warmers – $4.99

After my post last week I had leg warmers on the brain. I had taken a snap shot of my league-mate Lulu in some cute warmers and saw Dress Derby had some similar styles. I opted for the Sour Puss brand “Evil” warmers for the very reasonable price of five dollars. I’m literally giddy about this find!

Wristband – $1.99

Just before I was headed to checkout I opted for one more piece of derby flair and went for a black terrycloth wristband – I probably have five of these floating around my apartment, but I LOVE wearing them. Not an ideal accessory for skating, but a great addition to any after party outfit.

Grand total with shipping and tax: $23.59

Sweet! I got multiple items for under my budgeted amount. Shopping satisfaction fulfilled. Buyer’s remorse: none. Also I got everything in less than a week – even better! Plus they threw in a sticker :) I heart swag.

I would definitely say in this case the Best Derby Deal Award goes to the Evil leg warmers. I’m still in shock that they were only five dollars.

Definitely be sure and check out Dress Derby if you are in the market for some affordable and fun derby accessories.

See ya on the track!

Photo Credits: Dress Derby & Raven Von Kaos

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