Professor David Fagundes' article, Talk Derby to Me: Emergent Intellectual Property Norms Governing Roller Derby Pseudonyms (forthcoming Tex. L. Rev., natch) has been making the blawg rounds. The most recent coverage, What Can Roller Derby Girls Teach Us About IP Law? (Answer: More Than You Think) by Christopher Sprigman, appeared a few days ago on the Intellectual Property blog at Jotwell. I encourage everyone who is so inclined to read both the journal article and the blog post. Grab a cup of tea. Or better yet, a Lone Star.
I'm putting a reply-turned-post here because I'm very curious what people think about one comment in particular.
It has now been about two months since I passed the WFTDA skater test along with my fresh meat class and became a bona fide rollergirl, and about one month since our names were officially submitted to the TwoEvils name registry. Others have written from a more experienced vantage than I about the trickiness of managing the dual names and identities of our superhero lives. For me, a nice Texas girl who never forgets a "sir" or "ma'am," the answer is simple: as a matter of respect, you call people the name they call themselves unless they tell you otherwise. Even if your derby name means I have to call you by some anatomical or scatological term, I suck it up, because that's your name.
Apparently, it's not that easy for everyone.
The WFTDA test was just the first of many challenges. The next: figuring out a derby name!
This has gone from a lighthearted tradition to a complicated and sometimes disappointing rite of passage that has even been the subject of legal scholarship. I went to a signing of Down and Derby where Axles of Evil acknowledged that there is an intense amount of pressure around the naming that just wasn't there back when she started. Although I think that we're supposed to be grateful for the pop culture references that have arisen in the intervening decade: think of all the Bieber/beaver jokes that the foremothers of our movement missed out on!
I knew, or at least hoped, that the day would come where I could call myself something other than a Roller Wannabe. I have something in the works, but in the event that it falls through, I guess I'll have to have a back-up (perish the thought!). I'm kicking around the idea of having a contest to see who can come up with the best name, and maybe giving a prize to the person who comes up with the name that gets the most votes. Which I guess means that I'd have to dig up a prize, haha!
So, wise readers, knowing what you know about me, what would you name me?
I knew that there is a real name vs. derby name controversy within roller derby, but--because I have not had to go through the naming process--it had never occurred to me that there might be something amiss with the way names are registered.
Auntie Social at "This is How I Roll" lays out the problem pretty straight up, questioning the authority of the Two Evils Name Registry and a system whereby people who have been skating under their name for years can get snaked out of their name by, say, a newbie ref in Australia.
On some level, I don't feel like I'm entitled to have an opinion on this -- I'm not even meat yet, I should just worry about one thing at a time. On the other hand, I'm not planning on being the Roller Wannabe forever, and the derby name that I have been thinking of as mine (which I won't share because I'm superstitious!) might require me to write some pretty pathetic entreaty emails even though it's clearly different by a hard consonant sound from the next-closest names.
I guess my answer comes back around to the real name vs. derby name controversy: what if people wanted to skate under their real name, but there already was a Sally Smith? What if there are two NBA players called Mike Jones? Professional players' identities are multimillion-dollar brands that they have every interest in protecting and controlling, but in the end there is nothing that they can do about their name. They have to differentiate themselves in other ways. This is life, and it's kind of a pain. When a friend of mine discovered that her stage name had been taken by a roller derby player in the same city, she was mad as hell, but had to suck it up and just prove that she was the better What's-her-Face. When we come up with our own names, avoiding duplicates seems fair, but the prohibitions against similar names and the "arbitrary rejection" clause seem to go a little far.
Additionally, the algorithm that they seem to be using to determine similarity seems to compare phoneme-by-phoneme or perhaps letter by letter, essentially ruling out names that are puns on the same phrase. For example "Scary Bradshaw" and "Carrie Bandsaw" would probably turn up "very high" similarity, allowing one skater to shut out the other (or, as seems to be the case pretty often, exercise a pocket veto and just not respond to email requests). If they're trying to prohibit riffs on the same pun, they should probably just say that. I suspect that the reason they don't is that it would be apparent how much it restricts skaters in their name choices.
To me, there's something about the way that the system is constructed that is a little disappointing. Of course, I recognize that derby is 100% volunteer run, and that the keepers of the keys do so on their own personal time. For this, we salute them! But it also seems that the name registry is running on a 6+ month time lag, which means that people can find out that their name is rejected after they've started bouting and buying uniforms. And names that are taken are taken forever, even if they're from a 12 person league out of Nowheresville or the player quits after 1 season.
I don't know what could make this rule better, but I feel like there should be some way of determining whether a player is high-profile enough to merit taking the name forever. If the primary concern is that it will be confusing to fans and announcers, it might make sense to say that anyone who has ever played in a regional championship has superior claim to a name. If the primary concern is that of intellectual property and wanting to be totally unique... well, it might be worth examining whether the level of protectiveness (and perhaps even treading into arbitrariness) of the current system is entirely warranted given that players have many other ways of creating unmistakeably individual skate personas, even if they're both plays on the same reference.