Roller derby makes names part of the game

DENVER, Colo. -- Bloody Mary has been playing roller derby since 2002, which means there are fewer than a handful of people who have been playing longer. And it means that calling her by her legal name, Juliana Gonzales, is less likely to make her look up.

"More people in the world call me Bloody than call me Juliana," said the skater for Austin's Texecutioners.

She will play this weekend as the Women's Flat Track Derby Association holds its national championship tournament in Denver. The first bouts are scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Picking your roller derby alter ego is a rite of passage for a skater, involving self-reflection -- how you see yourself, or the kind of player you'd like to grow into. You have to be able to carry a name like Atomatrix or Raggedy Animal.

Quick, think about what defines you.

Are you quick, like Bonnie Thunders? Are you clever, like Harlot Bronte? Physically intimidating, a la Eleanor Bruisevelt ? Do you leave 'em dazed and confused, like OMG WTF?

Bonnie Matera kept waiting for the right derby name to hit her. Sporting curly blond hair with pink ends, she knew she wanted Rock in there, but couldn't get the rest. Finally, a friend suggested over beers -- the inspiration for many a great name -- that she go with Rock Nasty.

"It suits me," said Matera, er, Nasty, who skates for the Nashville Rollergirls.

Names have been a part of roller derby since the renaissance of the sport in the early 2000s. Each prospective skater checks her chosen derby name against a master list. If no one else has it, or a similar version, she can register it. But the list has grown immensely as the sport gains popularity, and picking the right name can be a challenge.

As much fun as the names are, the theatrical nature of a pseudonym doesn't appeal to every skater as teams try to push the athleticism of roller derby. One elite league, the Denver Roller Dolls, fields a travel team with players who wear the names their parents gave them on their backs. Tracy Akers and Gabrielle Begeman may not sound quite as tough, but they are formidable athletes.

"They do it because they want legitimacy," Kristy Goldy said of the skaters who wear their legal names. "Because we are athletes."

One skater said her team, the Naptown Roller Girls, had trouble getting local media outlets to take them seriously as a sport, and the evidence was that they didn't skate under their real names. Amooze-Booche, a foodie whose given name is Mandy Geryak, said that has changed. The team was even on the front page of the local paper earlier this year.

In the World Cup competition later this year, some skaters who normally compete under pseudonyms are having their given names put on their jerseys.

"I think it's a hot topic right now with a lot of skaters," said OMG WTF, aka Danielle Flowers. "For the World Cup a lot of skaters are using their own names. We do have skaters who want to make it serious. I can't imagine skaters in the Olympics with fake names."

Many of the women who now come into roller derby played some other sport growing up. OMG was a soccer player at Cal State Fullerton. Geryak was on the Xavier women's basketball team for two years. The women who will play in the national tournament see themselves more as athletes than campy entertainment.

And if the goal is to get the sport to be taken seriously on a large scale, there is a faction concerned that fake names lead people to conclude that it's a show, rather than a competition. At least at the highest level.

Bloody Mary sees the change in the way roller derby is perceived, but she thinks there is enough room in derby for both camps.

"Because of the unique way our sport evolves, I think there is a lot of room for diversity," she said.

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