The Evolution of a Derby Name

The Evolution of a Derby Name

by: 9 lb Hammer (also known as Hammy, Dr. Hammer, Hammer, Hamster, or Hampster)

Dedicated: to Shadow of Beth (also known as Shady, Shadow, S.O.B., or Just Beth)

People love to discuss derby names. Whether they are funny, clever, suggestive, mysterious, or just plain weird, everyone’s derby name has a story and a reason.

At this point, we all know the debate: will people take the sport seriously if there is someone skating on TV with a name that sounds like it could also belong to a My Little Pony? What if the skater’s name isn’t family friendly? What if the skater’s name is just really, really long and has so many syllables that everyone is totally confused by the end?

These are legitimate questions; however, I like derby names. They are fun. They give players a chance to explore parts of their personality that maybe, they haven’t yet discovered. They help players bond with their teammates.

I remember when I first decided upon my derby name. The first time I said “9 lb Hammer” aloud, a former teammate said, “Yep. That’s the one.” I picked the name because my father is a banjo player, and he often plays a traditional song of the same name. Although I’ve heard different stories about the song’s origin, it typically refers to hammers that workers used to build roadways or to work in coalmines. Coming from West Virginia, this seemed like the perfect homage to my heritage.

After the former teammate helped me solidify my choice of derby name, she asked, “Well, what are we going to call you?”

Wait a minute, I thought. What are you going to call me? I picked out a nickname, and now I have to have a nickname-of-a-nickname?

“I guess 9,” I said. “Or 9 lb.”

And that’s what people called me.

Until I showed up to my first Blue Ridge practice four years later. (There were some bouts in between, and a surgery, and a lot of time off, but that’s another story.) I knew walking in the door that Blue Ridge was a special team. They had a chemistry and work ethic that I’d never experienced before.

I soon learned that in addition to the work ethic and chemistry of Blue Ridge, the team also has a thing about derby names: when joining Blue Ridge, you might just have to live with whatever name the team picks for you.

Once I geared up for my first Blue Ridge Babies’ practice, someone asked me what my derby name was.

“9 lb Hammer,” I said.

“Okay, Hammer,” they replied. “Nice to meet you.”

And that was that. I was no longer 9 or 9 lb. I brought it up to someone a few practices later, and they said, “No, sorry. You’re Hammer.” I had a three-minute identity crises, and then I realized that they were right: I wanted to be Hammer. I was Hammer. Starting over meant accessing a part of my “derby self” that I hadn’t yet discovered. Hammer was going to be better than 9 or 9 lb. Blue Ridge was a fresh start for me, and I was ready to be someone new. Someone better.

But wait.

Just after I’d accepted the fact that I was going to be called “Hammer,” I amassed about four additional nicknames after officially making the team. (I’ve even caught up to Shadow of Beth, who is also known as “S.O.B.,” “Shady,” “Shadow,” or simply “Beth.”) Sometimes I’m “Dr. Hammer.” Sometimes I’m “Hammy.” Best yet, sometimes I’m “Hamster” or “Hampster.”

I never knew that I would be a Hamster, but I’m finding that the nickname-of-a-nickname fits me quite well. I like it when my teammates joke about me rolling around in the wheel of the track. I like it when someone calls me “Hamster,” and someone else can’t help but laugh. This type of silliness builds a weird type of trust and camaraderie that someone named Suzanne Samples (real name alert) just can’t find anywhere else.

As derby continues to evolve, I’m sure the names will as well. Maybe one day, derby names will be a thing of the past. Maybe one day, we’ll look at old bout programs and wonder why we picked such strange combinations of letters and syllables. Maybe one day, we’ll all wonder why we didn’t just use our real names in the first place.

However, when I’m 103-years-old, I’m still going to pull out my practice shirt that says “Hamster” and laugh. It will remind me that years ago, I liked being referred to as a rodent. It will remind me that skating challenged me and was fun. It will remind me of hearing a teammate say, “You’ve got this, Hamster,” which pushed me to finish a drill.

It will remind me not to take myself so seriously.

It will remind that I played roller derby, and it was awesome.

On November 16, 2013, come see the Blue Ridge Rollergirls French Broads challenge Mother State Roller Derby at 5 p.m. at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville. At 7 p.m., witness the Blue Ridge Rollergirls All Stars compete in a invitational-style mixed bout.

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