To understand the Kyle Fair and the Gathering of the Kyles, you must first understand the drywall-punching stand.
It was just a simple gray canopy tent, adorned with a hastily spray-painted “KYLES WANTED” sign, offering drywall punches at $5 a pop. Sitting under the tent were a few young men, all named Kyle and wearing matching white-and-blue “My Name Is Kyle” T-shirts. A couple of them were sipping on Monster energy drinks, as Kyles are wont to do, according to countless memes. Every few minutes, a roar of cheers rang out following each successful attempt at splitting a hunk of drywall. As participants and casual viewers watched thin boards split in half with clouds of white dust, they shared stories of what had driven them to make the pilgrimage to this sleepy suburb just south of Austin. Kyle Murdock traveled from Illinois. “I heard the call of my people, and I needed to rep Chicago in the way that only a Kyle could,” he said, following his quality thrust through the wall.
On Sunday, May 20, for the fourth time, and the first time at a new, free city festival called the Kyle Fair, the City of Kyle called upon all Kyles to participate in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest same-name gathering. The record is currently held by the city of Kupreski Kosci in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where an impressive 2,325 people named Ivan gathered on July 30, 2017. As was the experience for myself and many other Kyles, the month preceding what was dubbed the Gathering of the Kyles was filled with text messages and tagged posts on Instagram informing us of the event and begging us to attend.
Kyles flocked from as near as Austin and as far as Saskatchewan, Canada, to join the cause. Myself included, but with a catch. While I’ve gone by Kyle since birth, as it is my middle name, I found out before attending that I wouldn’t be counted in the climb to 2,326. To abide by the rules of the record, only Kyles spelling their name “Kyle” as their legal first name could be counted. Undeterred, I went in to observe, deeply curious about what would result in this convocation of Kyles. We as a people, Kyles and non-Kyles, were going to learn what this name was all about.
It hasn’t been an easy run for Kyles of late. As Brooklyn-based comedian Kyle Gordon, who traveled for the event, noted in a speech given in front of the drywall-punching stand, the name “Kyle” has fallen clear out of the top one hundred baby names list after its nineties peak. Not only that, but an unflattering Kyle stereotype has emerged. Rarely a week passes when someone doesn’t send me at least one meme along the lines of “the Kyle starter pack,” with images of punctured drywall, Monster energy drinks, and tacky facial hair I can’t even grow. Times are tough for Kyles. It’s not Karen, but it’s not great.
“I think Kyles are a smart, kind, dedicated people, but for too long, our name has been slandered and dragged through the mud,” said Gordon.
Running the drywall operation was Kyle Jack, a 28-year-old from Nashua, New Hampshire, who helps run the Kingdom of Kyle, a website formed as a result of the online craze around the mystery of Area 51 during the summer of 2019. Kyles everywhere bonded over the goofy prospect of storming the Nevada facility. “The Kyles made a meme, and it said the Kyles are going to raid it [Area 51],” said Jack. “Everyone picked it up, news stations, everywhere, and they gave birth to the Kyle movement. The Kyles started to make Facebook groups and join together.”
While the drywall punching was certainly entertaining, the general notion of the overaggressive, overcaffeinated Kyle fell by the wayside as the entire fairground turned into a sort of Kyle-themed Woodstock, light rainfall included. Large contingent of Kyles aside, the fair (subtitled “A Tex-travaganza”) wasn’t dissimilar to any other small-town Texas county fair. Rows of food trucks sold barbecue, shaved ice, and fresh lemonade. Guests strolled past tents that sold everything from craft jewelry to toy bows and arrows, plus sign-ups for a club volleyball team. There were also about a dozen carnival rides, most of which asked the question “Hey kid, would you care to go around in a circle at a moderate speed for forty-five seconds?”
Despite feeling like a wannabe Kyle for having to consistently introduce myself as “Kyle, but it’s my middle name,” I was able to appreciate the community being fostered. A large circle of roughly thirty to forty Kyles participated in a multidisc game of Frisbee. Kyles exchanged selfies and contact info, all bonding over nothing more in common than a name. The Gathering was also a family affair, with folks wearing shirts saying “Kyle’s Dad” or “I’m with Kyle.” There were grandparents with their Kyles and Kyle grandparents, like Kyle Stacey of Richardson, who enjoyed the event with her grandchildren. Most of the Kyles in attendance were men or boys, but ladies can be Kyles too, like eleven-year-old Kyle Brymer, who traveled with her mom, Jessi, from Pleasanton. “I mentioned it to her when I saw the ad, and she got super excited,” said Jessi Brymer. “You don’t meet many girl Kyles. We’ve already taken a girl Kyle picture—she was pretty pumped about that.”
The off-and-on drizzle didn’t dissuade anyone—on the contrary, one of the better moments of my afternoon was watching a congregation of adult and child Kyles cavort around the dance floor in front of the stage in the rain, joyfully dancing and clapping in unison to the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold.”
Throughout the afternoon, Rachel Sonnier, the city’s communications director, and her team worked tirelessly as more and more Kyles strolled off the shuttle buses that brought attendees from parking lots. Multiple lines feeding into the registration tent were fifty-plus Kyles deep for a majority of the afternoon and were growing even as the official count time of 4 p.m. came and went, somewhat of a callback to Election Day 2020—if you’re in line to be counted as a Kyle, stay in line.
At 5:07, Sonnier went on the stage to begin corralling the Kyles for a massive group photo, a difficult task. I sat in the registration tent, watching a sea of white shirts surge toward the stage. On the main stage, Sonnier called out sections of Kyles by their numbered wristbands in groups of one hundred. With each call increasing numerically, the anticipation ticked up, and the crowd began to buzz. “Unfortunately, we’ve got our count, and we did not make the Guinness record,” Sonnier announced.
No one seemed particularly upset, though. I spoke with Sonnier later, and she said she and her team were encouraged by the results. The final number came in at 1,490 Kyles, far surpassing the three previous attempts. In her post-event email to attendees, Sonnier indicated that this year’s Gathering was just the beginning, saying, “We hope even more Kyles will join us next year, when we once again attempt to break the record for the largest same-name gathering in 2024 at our second Kyle Fair A Tex-Travaganza. We look forward to putting on an even bigger, better attempt at this record and hope that Kyles far and wide help us spread the word.”
The crowd quickly dispersed, some Kyles staying for that night’s remaining entertainment, but many choosing to bid the fair adieu with an air of disappointment. Almost immediately following the announcement and the exodus of Kyles, the sun finally began to shine.
As they walked toward the shuttle and rideshare areas, departing Kyles from near and far exchanged farewells and nice-to-meet-yous. Kyle Jack, while scooping piles of destroyed drywall into a large black trash bag, spoke for many in his Kingdom of Kyle when saying, “I’ll definitely be there next year, and next year we’ll get it.”
Frankly, I’m not sure if that’s a promise or a threat. While the Ivans may remain on the mountaintop another year, my visit to Kyle gives me confidence in the community rallying for a victory in the coming years. Not just securing a record, but taking “Kyle” back to a place of prominence and respect among its peers. For the entirety of my life, I hadn’t really given much consideration to my name. My familial first name has tradition and meaning—my middle name of Kyle has always just been what I go by. Now, though, things are a bit different. Legal first name or not, we Kyles are a proud people that I’m proud to be a part of. We’re kind, jovial, and we love a good time—and yes, sometimes that good time involves sucking down a Monster energy drink and annihilating some drywall. The Kyle Fair brought the best of “Kyle” into the light, and I’ll speak for all Kyles in saying thanks. You’re next, Karen!