Monday, 16 January 2012


Choosing a skate name is, for many people, a pivotal moment.  Names are symbolic, choosing them even more so; it’s no coincidence that the only other times most people change their names are when they get married or get a peerage (surely not long now, right?) – life-changing moments where we want the world to know we’re different than we were before.  Bestowing a skate name upon oneself is the symbolic equivalent – it says ‘I am part of the roller derby world,’ ‘I am badass.’  When I chose my skate name (with significant help from my husband) it was a big deal.  It really felt like it meant something.

Nearly three years later, however, I have decided that I am no longer going to use ‘Katomic Bomb' and that from now on I will skate as me; Karen.  This is definitely not a sign that I am no longer part of the roller derby world and most certainly does not mean that I am no longer badass – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I have read many people’s accounts of their time as a derby rookie and a theme that crops up fairly regularly is one of derby providing empowerment and an opportunity to discover and unleash aspects of themselves that the wider world was previously unaware of.   Giving this new persona its own name strengthens and realises it.  This has no resonance with me whatsoever.  I was 31 when I started playing roller derby; a grown, married woman in a responsible job who was already pretty darned empowered.  I didn’t need derby to show me how to be disciplined and feisty and competitive – rather it worked the other way around in that the sport was an outlet for these well-established facets of my character.  I love that this sport has transformative power and think that the facility to recognise this through the choosing of a new name is symbolic and powerful; it’s just not for me.

Yesterday’s tournament at Tattoo Freeze was one of several recent events which have seen roller derby reaching out to a wider audience in the UK.  The sport is reaching a crossroads in this country and soon there will have to be important decisions made about its future.  I am firmly in the camp that wants roller derby to be taken seriously.  It is a complicated, tactical sport, requiring brains, brawn and tight teamwork, is truly accessible to people of all shapes and sizes and is wonderful fun to watch.  The Olympics would be better with roller derby in them and the competition fiercer and more exciting with funding available to invest in training at a local and junior level.  My concern is that the roller derby ‘scene’ which attracts so many people and is undeniably part of what makes the sport so special, might also be its biggest obstacle.  Skate names and boutfits, I feel, make it easy for people to decide that it’s not worth looking any further – that we’re not serious sportspeople or that it’s a game that’s not for ‘people like me’.  Reverting to my real name is my personal way of saying, ‘this is serious – we are serious.’  Personally, it’s not about the scene, it’s about the sport.

I realise that many people will feel quite differently about this issue, and the fact that the Derbiverse accommodates us all is a big part of its wonderfulness.  Let’s hope that that doesn’t get lost as we negotiate the exciting and important times to come.


  1. Nice one! There are quite a few GRGs skating under their 'given' (for want of a better word!) names and it's good to see the inclusive derby world accepting people however they want to be known.

    Sarah McM xx

  2. Just dropped mine for similar reasons.

  3. I know what you mean about the derby name just not being that big a deal to you. I kind of feel like that, in that derby me is exactly the same as non-derby me, but I feel my derby name highlights a different side to me and a different aspect of your life.

    Good luck with your new - old - name though :)

    Pip pip,


  4. Here's another interesting perspective on the issue -
    Enjoy! xxx

  5. Well, I am lucky. I have been known as GoAnna for EVER - always part of sport so, whenever I got the ball or pushed harder, it was always, "Go Anna!!!!" being called from the sidelines.
    I am Australian .... We have goannas = LARGE Monitor Lizards, which can be VERY ferocious and slightly creepy-looking ......
    My Derby moniker is GoAnna .... For me it was more an acceptance that, yes, if I am going to play sport and we have to have a name .... Well, I can be the OLD sporty me of years past :) .... and GoAnna is not in anyway offensive nor can it be misconstrued - also, it's pretty obvious that my name is Anna :) :) Lucky all round!
    Happy Rolling Peeps!

  6. I'm a player for the Charlotte Speed Demons, one of the first "all-legal-names" teams, and have been playing under my legal name for two years now. I started four years ago with a stage name (different team) because it was expected, but I never felt a strong affinity for the practice, for many of the reasons you name. I'm a lawyer, carpenter, downhill skier, competitive pool player, competitive poker player, mom and wife. I didn't come to this sport to receive validation or to recreate myself. I came to play, and it's ME and YOU out there training and sweating and pushing ourselves to be better teammates, not a herd of cheeky alter egos. I'm proud to play under my legal name, proud to set my teammates as role models for my daughter, and proud to be coaching a new junior derby program (yay!). Thanks for this article - there are plenty of us out here who share your perspective.