By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Reciting the joys of the multi-purpose first name

Racheal Winter/News-Register##
Finding that McMinnville has a Kirby Street, while only a few blocks long, was a happy surprise for the reporter.
Racheal Winter/News-Register## Finding that McMinnville has a Kirby Street, while only a few blocks long, was a happy surprise for the reporter.

The other night in conversation, I referred to something from the early 1900s as “after the turn of the century,” to which my 26-year-old son dryly asked me if I meant 2021 or 1921. At my age it’s hard to keep your centuries straight.

I need plenty of 21st-century lessons, and I got one the other morning in what was yet another pithy example of the confusing nature — at least to some — of my first name.

No, I was not named for a vacuum cleaner. My parents just liked the name.

But a man who once tried to sell me a Kirby Home Cleaning System — it’s NOT just a vacuum, I was told — thought I was joking when I told him that, yes, my first name really was Kirby.

I was reminded of one of these episodes at Yamhill Derby Days.

I was watching the parade from Maple and East Second streets. I naturally fell into conversation with the person next to me, Ramona Pekkola, who served on derby court in 1972.

Hearing her story and meeting her delightful grandson, Samson, made the parade — and getting to cover it — special for me. It pays to stand next to the right person at a parade.

Living in Port Townsend in the early 1990s — last century — I found myself next to a mother and her daughter, about 8, at the annual Rhody Fest Parade. When I introduced myself with, “Hi, my name is Kirby Neumann-Rea, with the Daily News,” the girl looked at me in shock, then glanced at her mother in panic.

It turned out her first name was Kirby and her middle name Rae. Mishearing me, she wondered how it was that this strange man knew her name.

I understood her confusion. But while her mom and I got a chuckle out of it, Kirby still did not want to talk to me.

When I started work at the paper in Molalla in 1985, I introduced myself to the mayor on a visit to city hall. A few nights later, I attended my first city council meeting.

As I entered the room, with folks still gabbing in small groups, the mayor called out, “Kirby, come on in.”

I noticed a dark-haired man at my left look sharply my way. It turned out to be Councilor Kirby Kindall, who exclaimed, “Shoot, I’ve lived here all my life and always been the only Kirby in town.”

My son had a classmate named Kirby, and I coached them both in basketball. It was always fun when we would simultaneously chime, “Good job, Kirby!”

I recently met Kirby Swatosh. He’s the leader of the rock band Moon Patrol, an annual performer at McMinnville’s UFO Days.

I had to track that guy down. And getting acquainted with him between sets, it became clear he was the nicest Kirby in the room.

I first met another Kirby when I was 18. I later met others, all male.

That has since changed. Not a complaint, but the fact is that I’ve come to meet several women named Kirby, along with several dogs.

You can add it to Charlie and Sandy for popular dog names that work for both genders and various canine types.

Looking back, I wonder if, until that Port Townsend parade, Kirby Rae thought only girls bore that name.

My unusual first name has had its bittersweet moments, however.

I left newspapering briefly in 1998 to take a school public information post. And I learned my boss had a dog named Kirby.

She was from Minnesota, where she fell in love with the Minnesota Twins baseball team and its star, Kirby Puckett.

As boss and employee, we didn’t get along well, so I ended up seeking other employment. I often wondered how it felt to go home to her beloved pooch after a day spent dealing with that other Kirby.

When Kirby Puckett died, I wrote her a letter of sympathy, as I knew she really admired him and he was beloved both as a person and player. I never had the pleasure of meeting her canine Kirby, who’s no doubt now in heaven chasing balls thrown by her baseball hero Kirby.

I knew I had to come to terms with sharing a first name with women and dogs.

Indeed, all this equipped me for that 21st century lesson I got last weekend. Here’s the back story:

I had submitted a playlist to the “Five at 5” show on KINK FM, and it had been chosen for airing July 22. In addition to the songs, which included “New Year’s Day” by U2 and “Have a Heart” by Bonnie Raitt, the station asks for a short bio and explanation of the list.

Lorre and I looked forward to tuning in while on our drive to Pacific City that afternoon. But come 5 p.m., announcer Gustav mispronounced Neumann-Rea as “newman-ree-uh” instead of “newman-ray.”

I don’t mind that, being used to all kinds of spoken and written variations of my name. And at the next break, Gustav corrected it, saying, “Let’s go with ‘newman-ray.’ ”

He played another song, then recited my biography, which he essentially reduced to “a newspaper editor living in McMinnville.” So I was braced for what happened next, which made it all the funnier.

“She chose her songs because, though they may be 30 or more years old, she still feels they have meaning today,” he intoned.

We laughed and shook our heads. I can only speculate, but Gustav has probably met a few female Kirbys, and my playlist did include several female singers.

That 21st century lesson? Start including “pronoun: he/him” in e-mails to people you don’t know.

But it’s good to have a name shared by so many.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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