After more than eight years of using the derby name Vivi Section, I have decided to skate under my own name. Though very few people ever actually got my derby name without an explanation, I no longer wish to be associated with or make light of a word for a violent act. Vivisection is a practice that causes suffering to living beings, including humans during times of war.
In the early days of the roller derby revival there was something that felt radical about choosing a name and identity that evoked violence, toughness and the like. Even though that didn’t really feel like me, I bought into that idea. It seemed like turning societal expectations about women upside down and that spoke to my version of feminism at the time. I liked names that were pun-ny and I wanted something that could be shortened into a “regular” first name. I didn’t want to be called “Murder” or “Brawl” or something similar for short because it didn’t seem like the right fit for me. In fact, being called an innocuous nickname like “Vivi” for so long — in addition to the obscurity of the reference — is probably what allowed me to ignore the violence embedded in the full name.
Over time, what initially felt like a radical reclaiming has evolved for me. It now feels hollow and meaningless rather than edgy and fierce. I am at heart a peaceful person. I’m also tired of the blank stares I get when I explain vivisection — it seems especially crass to invoke such horror by way of trying to show how “clever” I am in having come up with such an obscure pun that sounds something like a “real” name. To give fair credit, my ex came up with the name and I adopted it after names that I liked — like Helena Handbasket and Lady MacDeath — were already registered on the Two Evils website, an unwieldy and pain-in-the-ass database that some of you derby olds will remember. It was stressful for me to come up with something unique and appropriate and fierce at a time when I had zero confidence in myself in the sport. I had to write a member of the Green Mountain Derby Dames — now Green Mountain Roller Derby, how much has changed over time! — named Di Section to get her permission to use the name because they were too similar for automatic approval on the registry. She said yes and Vivi Section was born. I have close friends who have never called me anything other than Vivi.
In closing this chapter of my personal derby journey, I want to add that I love derby names and my decision to abandon mine is not a critique of anyone who chooses to use one. I have defended the use of derby names over the years to critics who have asserted that we needed to use our real names in the sport to be “taken seriously.” (By whom?) There can be something extremely empowering about choosing a new name and I love that roller derby has provided that experience for so many people over the years. I support the act of individuals claiming new and meaningful names and identities in derby and anywhere at any time that makes sense for them. For me, it feels like the right time to move on from Vivi Section.
Derby names add an air of fun and humor to our sport and community. They suggest that we don’t take ourselves too seriously in a good way, that we can be fierce and competitive while also being light-hearted and goofy. They showcase our creativity and give hints to our fans about our personalities. If I had chosen a different name — one that didn’t invoke pain and suffering and human cruelty — I would continue to use it. I feel quite ambivalent about my real name, which evokes my patrilineage and is differently problematic for me. Yet I feel too old in this world and in this sport to choose something completely new. I will continue to respond to Vivi, a perfectly fine name on its own, as I transition to using my own name in an official capacity moving forward.